New owner of former Debenhams department store sets goal for ‘thriving city’

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AEW has issued a short statement on the former department store since the building purchase

The new owners of the former Debenhams department store in Bristol have spoken for the first time since the purchase of the site.

Back in October, Bristol World revealed that London-based company 33 Horsefair Limited had taken over the landmark store, which closed in May 2021. The newly-formed group is controlled by major property firm AEW.

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Since then, work has taken place to clear some of the interior of the building with a sign for demolition firm Lawson Group positioned above the high elevator window. The situation has led to much speculation over the future of the landmark site.

Mayor Marvin Rees, speaking at his State of the City Address said that a mixed-use project was being worked up for the site - a development with a mixture of uses like retail, office space and residential.

Now, several months after the acquisition, AEW has released a comment for the first time - although the statement offers little detail on the company’s plan.

AEW has commented over the former Debenhams store for the first timeAEW has commented over the former Debenhams store for the first time
AEW has commented over the former Debenhams store for the first time | BristolWorld

A spokesperson told Bristol World said: “Bristol is an attractive place to work, live and socialise. AEW is working in close partnership with the city council to ensure that Bristol continues to be a thriving city.”

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AEW already owns large swathes of the city centre. Its portfolio reveals ownership of buildings in The Horsefair and St James Barton, Broadmead, Fairfax Street, Nelson Street and Union Street.

They include a block of buildings recently purchased opposite the former Debenhams store: 44-46 The Horsefair, 42 The Horsefair (Burger King), 48 The Horsefair (Starbucks) plus the line of 51-53 Merchant Street (BoConcept). Plus 56-64 Broadmead and 41-45 Merchant Square, as well as 47-49 Merchant Street.

The red line shows the buildings already acquired by AEW in Bristol city centreThe red line shows the buildings already acquired by AEW in Bristol city centre
The red line shows the buildings already acquired by AEW in Bristol city centre | BristolWorld

In an announcement on the acquisitions in 2021, Richard Bashford, of Fawcett Mead, the agent acting for AEW, said: “We think the Broadmead shopping area is going to see significant changes in the next decade, with a high proportion of the existing retail buildings redeveloped into offices, residential or other alternative uses.

“This will create a mixed use environment that is so importantly needed to help make this part of Bristol City Centre more sustainable and thrive as a place to shop, visit, live, work or study. The properties recently acquired by AEW are ideally suited for redevelopment and offer exciting opportunities to be part of this transformation.”

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Bristol World is aware of ongoing discussions between AEW and Bristol City Council over the future use of the former Debenhams site. This was confirmed today (January 13) by a city council spokesperson.

Mr Rees has previously said that any future use of the site must tie in with the city council’s own plans for the city centre. He has also said that the council has ‘more influence’ because it holds the freehold of the land.

The council has been drawing up its own city centre development and delivery plan for up to 2050, with the store a key part of the work. If AEW did opt for a change of use of the former Debenhams store, it would need to submit a planning application which would be subject of a public consultation.

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