Hammerson reveals Armani and Jamie’s Italian for Newcastle’s Monument Mall – then deletes it
It seems that Hammerson, the owner of Newcastle’s Monument Mall, may have inadvertently revealed two of the tenants that it’s signed up for the redeveloped shopping centre.
Just on Monday, eagle-eyed retail enthusiast Mike Ho (@inmh88 on Twitter) noted on SkyscraperCity that Hammerson’s own website was trumpeting the arrival of Armani and Jamie’s Italian within the scheme, with the site stating that both were expected to open in 2013. By today, however, those references had been deleted.
The most likely explanation is that Hammerson revealed the news ahead of time: it was, after all, always surprising that news of such big-name signings should casually appear on the company’s website rather than being the basis of a high-profile press release. If so, one assumes that someone somewhere has gained a slapped wrist in the last few days. Meanwhile, I’m kicking myself for not taking a screenshot when I had the chance.
For the moment, then, TX Maxx remains the scheme’s only confirmed tenant. At present, the fashion and homewares retailer occupies a 25,000 sq ft unit on the Mall’s lower-ground floor – the last part of the shopping centre that’s still trading – but is expected to relocate to a new 37,000 sq ft unit in November. This will occupy the first and second floors, with access from Northumberland Street, cementing the street’s position as a value and mid-market fashion retail destination.
Meanwhile, the revamped Mall’s street-facing units on Blackett Street are where Armani, Jamie’s Italian and other higher-end fashion and leisure names are likely to end up, complementing the more upmarket and boutiquey shops – such as Hotel Chocolat, The North Face and Urban Outfitters – that have recently started to cluster around Grey’s Monument.
Progress at Monument Mall has certainly been rapid since work began on site just three-and-a-half months ago, with contractors seemingly working around the clock to get things done: the Northumberland Street end of the site has still been a hive of activity on several occasions when I’ve walked past at nearly midnight. As comparison of the shots above shows, both the interior and exterior of this end of the Mall have been gutted, with the old entrance being turned into a full-height glazed strip that will, I assume, form the access to the new TX Maxx.
The whole phasing of the scheme has been cleverly planned in that it allows TK Maxx to trade continuously throughout the redevelopment; in turn, once the store moves to its new location, Hammerson will be able to gut and reconfigure the vacated lower-ground-floor space.
Finally, one unit that might or might not be occupied within the redeveloped scheme is the prominent corner site facing Blackett Street and Northumberland Street, where Evans and Wallis were previously located. Somewhat controversially, this has been earmarked for a modern, flagship Barclays branch, reigniting plans that first surfaced three years ago in relation to the nearby ex-Zavvi (and now ex-Peacocks) site, and similar to the existing recently opened Barclays branches that I’ve spotted on my travels in Bristol and Sheffield.
In both those cases, Barclays has taken over high-profile corner sites that were previously in retail use: an ex-Gap in Sheffield, and a former New Look in Bristol’s Broadmead. There’s no doubt that both branches look impressive, and a bank is certainly preferable to a long-term empty unit. However, as I argued three years ago, the loss of prime retail space to financial services is a concern, particularly in those situations – like Newcastle – where demand for such space among retailers still appears to exist.
For this reason, I was one of several members of the public to voice my objections to Barclays’ planning application, highlighting its potential negative impact in retail terms as well as the knock-on effect in terms of branch closures elsewhere in the city centre:
I am disappointed by this proposal, and urge Newcastle City Council to refuse permission for the change of use. Northumberland Street is known UK-wide as the city’s prime retail thoroughfare, and every effort should be made to retain and promote that status.
While there is clearly a place for some financial services uses within this mix, the location in question is a particularly prime corner site with a long history of retail occupancy. Its change of use would lessen the attractiveness of the southern end of Northumberland Street – where there are already NatWest and Santander branches nearby – to both shoppers and potential retail tenants, and would also seriously hinder any future attempt to extend the retail core into East Pilgrim Street, as has been frequently proposed.
The consequent closure of Barclays branches elsewhere in the city centre would also result in two more prime sites becoming vacant, neither of which is likely to attract a new retail occupant in its current form.
From the point of view of Newcastle’s status as a retail destination, it is therefore preferable to reject this proposal and ensure that the owners of Monument Mall make every effort to secure the retail occupant that this important site deserves.
Fortunately, Newcastle City Council appears to share this point of view: the Planning Committee this week agreed to reject the application, subject to an additional period of public consultation, with a Council spokesman noting that “the unit that Barclays was interested in is one of the most desirable retail locations in the region.”
After Monument Mall’s decline and apparent lack of direction under its previous ownership, Hammerson’s acquisition of the property last year – and the scale and speed of its planned transformation – was, as I’ve observed before, a very welcome development. However, the proposed tenancy of Barclays certainly sapped some of my excitement, and risked undermining what retail experts had widely assumed would be a high-end retail- and leisure-led scheme.
With only TK Maxx confirmed beforehand, the emergence of the Barclays plans made me wonder, not unreasonably, about the actual levels of interest in the scheme from retailers and leisure operators. However, if names of the calibre of Jamie’s Italian and Armani are indeed signed up – both of which would be fantastic additions to the city centre – it surely renders the proposed inclusion of Barclays unnecessary, as well as incongruous.