Cladding goes up on Newcastle’s Primark as new city centre developments take shape
The outside of Newcastle’s enlarged Primark is finally starting to gain its funky cladding, as the Northumberland Street store gets ready for its planned opening.
Since I last updated on the project at the end of July, the exterior of the building has changed relatively little. Instead, work has presumably been concentrated on the interior, where Primark’s move into the revamped ex-BHS half of the property has allowed redevelopment work to proceed on the ground and first floors of the original Primark store.
As the cladding goes on, we can see the outside of the building starting to resemble the artist’s impression that was first revealed 15 months ago. The end result will certainly be a striking addition to Northumberland Street, and I can’t wait to see it in its full glory.
At the opposite end of the street, a similarly radical transformation continues at Monument Mall, where the glazed frontage of the new TK Maxx store appears more or less complete – quite a change from how the façade looked just three months ago, and an even more radical departure from its appearance before owner Hammerson’s redevelopment commenced in April (below).
Hammerson’s website is still claiming a November 2012 opening for the ‘flagship’ two-storey TK Maxx store, which seems plausible given the impressive speed at which new shop interiors can be created, stocked and opened to the public. As others have remarked on the SkyscraperCity Forums, however, I hope the entire frontage will be given a clean before TK Maxx moves in, to avoid there being such an obvious contrast between the old and new stonework.
As far as ‘official’ news of other Monument Mall lettings are concerned, it’s still pretty quiet. Jamie’s Italian was granted its premises licence a month ago and will open on the Blackett Street side, taking ground and first floor space where the NUFC store used to be.
Meanwhile, controversial plans for a ‘flagship’ Barclays branch in the prominent ex-Evans spot were turned down by Newcastle City Council, and will hopefully lead to a more suitable retail tenant being signed up for this key corner site in due course.
Before then, TK Maxx’s imminent move will allow work to begin properly on redeveloping the interior of Monument Mall beneath the iconic dome, which is already being nibbled away as far as TK Maxx’s continued customer access requirements allow.
Rumours persist that Sainsbury’s is being lined up to occupy part of the basement unit that TK Maxx will shortly vacate, perhaps fuelled by a reference on Acme’s website – an architectural practice who conducted a refurbishment feasibility study for Monument Mall last year – to the scheme having “to include accommodation for a double floor TK Maxx, Barclays bank, sub-ground level Sainsbury’s and smaller ground level retailers”.
With new supermarkets having proliferated in Newcastle city centre in recent years – including a couple of Sainsbury’s Locals – some people might argue that there’s little need for any more. However, with the unit in question having direct access to the Monument Metro concourse – and the network’s busiest station – there’s little doubt that it’s a fantastic spot for a supermarket looking to capture passing footfall.
Not far away in Grainger Street, the upmarket footwear chain Jones Bootmaker opened last month, transforming the ex-Jaeger unit in what seemed like no time at all. Like the shop it replaced, Jones is a good looking and elegant addition to the city centre, and, following on from my recent blog post on the subject, I was particularly pleased to see it making decent use of its entrance and frontage to Central Arcade.
Jones will soon be joined by Cath Kidston, which opens its new store in the nearby ex-Office premises this coming Thursday (8 November), bringing what it describes as “new collections, from homeware to fashion and accessories, as well as kidswear and one-off vintage pieces”.
Though Cath Kidston has had a concession in Newcastle’s Fenwick department store for some time, its opening of a standalone store will hopefully encourage other boutiquey retailers to follow suit, as well as bringing a welcome splash of colour to Grainger Street. With Urban Outfitters, Pretty Green, Hotel Chocolat and The North Face all having opened in the last couple of years – and Armani Exchange expected to open in one of Monument Mall’s Blackett Street-facing units – the area around the Monument is starting to feel more cohesive then ever as a higher-end retail quarter. Perhaps there’s an opportunity here for the area’s retailers and coffee shops to work together and market the ‘Monument Quarter’ as a distinct destination?
L’Occitane en Provence is one name that you might have thought would target that part of town, rather than Eldon Square’s Douglas Way. Its new store there opened last week, and looks and smells as lovely as you would expect, but it does seem quite a brave location among a cluster of jewellers and phone shops. Still, with the shoe chains Kurt Geiger and Office having recently moved from Grainger Street to the older part of Eldon Square, and relatively few empty units other than in the High Friars / Sidgate section, there is certainly a sense that the opening of St Andrew’s Way in 2010 has given a letting and footfall boost to Eldon Square as a whole. L’Occitane is a name that Newcastle has been lacking compared to other big cities, so I hope its arrival here is a success.
For all the success in attracting quality names to the top end of Grainger Street, the question of how to extend that down towards Market Street and Central Station remains an unanswered one. As I’ve mentioned before, efforts a decade ago to develop Market Street as the ‘Bond Street of the North’ were singularly unsuccessful, and the upmarket fashion stores T.M.Lewin and All Saints now sit rather incongruously among Blacks, The Co-operative Food, and a stretch of empty units running down to Costa on the corner of Grey Street.
The lower half of Grainger Street is a little livelier, if rather more value-focused, assisted by the fortunate survival of the city’s 91,000 sq ft TJ Hughes when all but six of the chain’s 57 department stores closed down last year. Though the Scottish outdoor retailer Tiso recently shut its Newcastle store – leaving a large two-level unit empty – Grainger Street’s vacancy rate is lower than it has been for a long time, due in part to Cramlington-based Start Fitness occupying three large shops: an eponymous store in the ex-Xmas Box (a unit that hasn’t had a permanent occupant since being redeveloped a decade ago); Start Cycles in the ex-Kookai; and Start Football in the former Tucci opposite.
Further down the street, the opening of CeX last month – the second-hand games and entertainment chain, supplementing its long-established store in Pilgrim Street – ably illustrates Grainger Street’s split personality.
However, when CeX clearly has a successful proposition, presents an attractive face to the street with its new shop, and has brought back into use a property that had been empty and unsightly since Millets vacated it three years ago, it’s hard to argue that its arrival is anything other than a good thing.
My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence, including detailed coverage of the North East. It also works with retailers nationwide to improve their stores, customer communications and market knowledge. For more information, visit www.cannyinsights.com, drop me an email, or give me a call on (0191) 461 0361.