Debenhams Bristol: Mixed-use scheme for former department store would be an ‘exciting opportunity’
‘We can’t deny we were sad about M&S and Debenhams, but the city centre is always evolving’
A mixed-use scheme for the former Debenhams store in Broadmead could benefit the city centre, claims the manager of the shopping quarter, who said plans to develop the landmark site marked an ‘exciting opportunity’.
The six-storey department shop closed in May leaving many people wondering about the future of the city centre, and some concerns intensified with the announced closure of the nearby Mark and Spencer store next year.
However, as revealed by BristolWorld, a ‘preferred bidder’ has since been selected for the former Debenhams branch and an update on the sale is expected this month.
Agents managing the sale, Cushman and Wakefield, could not reveal the bidder’s proposal but said there had been interest from groups looking at mixed uses, including residential, for the site.
Other former Debenhams stores are set to be transformed into mixed use developments, including in Leeds and Derby where schemes including studio apartments, leisure space and retail units are being introduced.
Speaking to BristolWorld this week, Vivienne Kennedy, manager of Broadmead Business Improvement District (BID), said a multi-use proposal for the site which included homes could be a positive move for the city centre.
The BID represents almost 300 companies based in the shopping district which each pay a levy. Its work includes business support, promoting the area, and, particularly since the start of the pandemic, helping to keep shoppers safe.
Speaking from her office in the centre of Broadmead, Ms Kennedy said: “We can’t deny we were sad about M&S and Debenhams, but the city centre is always evolving - if you visited 50 years ago, as I did often as a child, it is almost unrecognisable today.
“It is like trying to remember the places you used to shop and seeing how the area has changed - shopping centres are always going to change with time.
“We know it is unlikely Debenhams will be a department store again. I believe it could be mixed use, maybe with leisure, retail and residential use. You see similar schemes at former department stores across the country.
“It is an exciting opportunity for the city centre.
“For me, I don’t see a problem with some residential use. People are already living in the city centre. More people living here will provide more business for our shops, and raise activity through the city centre.
“Shopping centres have changed. It is no longer just about getting essentials. You meet friends for a chat, you take part in leisure activities, you get service with a smile - all things you don’t get with a knock on the door from the postman.”
Despite the knock-back of Debenhams closing, Ms Kennedy said there was still much optimism around Broadmead and the Galleries, which celebrated its 30th year since opening last month.
A preloved designer retail business called ClothingXChange opened its store in Broadmead recently. It has been joined by cosmetic dentistry Smmmile, Tea For U and cafe Strange Brew in Fairfax Street.
Entertainment centre Roxy could open in the closed Fitness4Less site in Union Street under plans submitted to Bristol City Council.
Ms Kennedy said: “There are shops which have closed, I can’t deny that - but then we haven’t had a month without a new store opening.
“With the range of shops and leisure activities on offer, we provide enough for visitors to spend several hours here, and enjoy it.”
Following the launch of the Christmas market last week (November 5), a ‘Bristol local market’ with 20 stalls offering locally-produced products is set to open on November 26.
Meanwhile, Ms Kennedy and her small team continue to promote the shopping quarter while providing businesses and visitors support during the pandemic.
The BID, which is the oldest of its kind in the country having been launched in 2005, is in its fourth term which ends in 2023 when businesses will vote on renewing it again.