What next for The Galleries? Exclusive interview with shopping centre manager

David Wait, manager of The Galleries, says the centre will remain an integral part of the community after redevelopmentDavid Wait, manager of The Galleries, says the centre will remain an integral part of the community after redevelopment
David Wait, manager of The Galleries, says the centre will remain an integral part of the community after redevelopment | Neil Phillips
The shopping centre faces a fresh challenge after vacancy rates rose further over the past year

Pop-up shops, leisure activities and even music events are filling up empty spaces at the Galleries as its manager attempts to uphold the shopping centre’s position as a key destination in the city.

David Wait, appointed centre manager two years ago, spoke about using retail units differently following the departure of major retailers such as Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Peacocks over the past year.

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He also maintained it was ‘business as usual’ as plans progressed in the background to transform the site into a mixed-use development.

Speaking to BristolWorld from the centre’s food court, he said: “This might sound strange, but I’m genuinely quite excited at some of the empty units because we are looking at different ways of using the spaces.”

Like shopping centres across the country, the pandemic has had a huge impact with the proportion of empty units at the centre rising from around 10 per cent to 20 per cent today.

Mr Wait said the national crisis had accelerated a change in shopping behaviours with food and beverage and leisure becoming ever more important.

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At the Galleries, a music event called The Underground in Bristol returns to the car park beneath the shopping centre on December 4 after a success showing in August.

Around one in five retail units at The Galleries are currently emptyAround one in five retail units at The Galleries are currently empty
Around one in five retail units at The Galleries are currently empty | BristolWorld

A free cinema for up to 100 people is open in the former Edinburgh Woollen Mill store every weekend up to Christmas.

While an art exhibition called Keep Art It and a soft place centre called Jungle Mania have also opened up in empty units.

“It is things like this that three or four years ago we would not have considered doing because we did not have the space or we felt we should be mainly retail. But now we are looking at different ways to use the space,” said Mr Wait.

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“The retail landscape was slowly changing until two years ago. Then the pandemic started to accelerate the process and we’re now at a point where the food and beverage and leisure side of things are as important as retail.

Pop-up stores are now making use of empty retail units at The GalleriesPop-up stores are now making use of empty retail units at The Galleries
Pop-up stores are now making use of empty retail units at The Galleries | BristolWorld

“We are now trying to do things differently with the vacant units to support existing occupiers and keep this centre as a place people want to come and visit.”

Earlier this year, it was reported that plans were also afoot to transform the shopping centre, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, into a mixed-use development.

It followed the £32million purchase of the centre by LaSalle Investment Management from global investment firm InfraRed Capital in 2019.

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When asked about the progress of the plans, Mr Wait said he was currently unable to reveal the detail or potential uses as part of the proposal while a feasibility study was being carried out by the owners.

No planning application has been submitted yet to Bristol City Council, with the whole scheme delayed due to the pandemic, said Mr Wait.

He added: “There is going to be some form of redevelopment, but probably not for another three years.

“No planning application has been submitted yet, so that shows it is still in really early stages but there will be something happening in some shape or form.

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“Ultimately, because there is a lot of retail in Bristol city centre and companies no longer want two or three stores we have to try and use the retail space in different and better ways.”

The Galleries marks its 30th anniversary this year - but times have changed since openingThe Galleries marks its 30th anniversary this year - but times have changed since opening
The Galleries marks its 30th anniversary this year - but times have changed since opening | BristolWorld

But he said until then it was ‘business as usual’ as the centre.

He added: “We remain an integral part of the community. We work with existing occupiers to help them trade as well as making the place a clean and safe environment for people to come and visit.

“Our priority is business as usual until the potential redevelopment has actually happened.”

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This week Christmas decorations will be unveiled at the centre while there are also plans for a pop-up police shop and a Christmas tree where people can donate presents for children in need.

And while many units are boarded up, there was still a buzz among customers at the food court as the present-buying season begins.

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