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ANALYSIS The shopping centre is fast becoming the architectural landmark of the city centre. It’s about creating that destination that is not only the first thing you associate with a location but the reason you want to visit. For a historic city such as Southampton, creating a landmark that matched the existing furniture was to be a delicate task. With an already booming shopping centre, Hammerson set itself the task of creating a leisure-led extension to Southampton’s Westquay that would turn the site into a true destination. The Southampton scheme has proven its potential since its opening in 2000, and, according to Guy Wells, development manager at Hammerson, the leisure led extension was simply a fulfilment of public expectation – although arguably it has surpassed this expectation several times over. “When we look at the economic downturn of 200810 and beyond,” says Wells, “where we had retailers that had gone into administration in the UK, the administrator generally kept the Westquay store open and we maintain an occupancy rate of 98-98.5 per cent.” “The difference we’ve seen since the scheme opened is a huge change in consumer need and want of demanding more of their shopping visits. Customers want to do more than just shop – they want to eat, to drink, to go to the cinema. They want to combine the visit to do a number of things. “In our 2011 review, we established that the type of retail we had put into the scheme was no longer suitable. We had a larger number of smaller units when we should have focused on was the change in consumer need and want in providing more catering and leisure rather than just purely expanding the retail – which led us to where we are today.” Where they are today is no mean feat. The finished development is transportive. It genuinely feels as though you are a world away from an English city, unsurprising given that award-winning architects ACME were largely behind the scheme, and worked with a team of international expert developers. With any large-scale development, there were several planning constraints to adhere to. Its location proved problematic in that it is situated beside the historic city walls, with waterfront views that had to be protected. This was overcome by raising the 11,700 sq ft, 10-screen De Lux cinema in a ‘floating’ structure, seemingly unsupported as it looms over the main build and allowing for a through-view of the water. Rather than being a hindrance, the historic wall became a focal point for the newly designed Esplanade. Westquay Watermark now sits with its many restaurants looking out at the rustic plaza. “We had to make sure that the new development was a minimum of 45m away from the medieval walls,” Wells explains, “and as part of that to create a new city plaza. The third constraint actually added to this that there’s a 7m difference in level from the site and what is the principal trading level of Southampton, which we overcame by creating a ramped promenade, giving the plaza built-in tiered seating in the form of stone steps.” The steps give the Esplanade area the feel of an ancient amphitheatre, which has so far been used as such for the staging for several events. Most notable are the light shows, which involve the plaza turning into a large, shallow pool while colourful projections are shone on the opposing city walls and reflect in the water. Wells

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is confident that outdoor venue will be well utilised, with plans for year-round events including local markets and bike meets. The restaurants are, of course, the real reason to make the journey. “The vast majority (75 per cent) of the caterers that we signed up and are now trading or fitting out are new to the city,” Wells elaborates. “We wanted the quality casual dining on the lower promenade, all with external terraces. We strategically placed the different operators in the different parts of the building based on who their customer is – from family dining internally to the aspirational dining offers externally. “What we know is that where you marry up the right brands and diverse tenant mix and combine it with the food, beverage, dining, leisure offer with retail it satisfies consumer need which is reflected back in increased footfall and increased dwell time. We designed the esplanade to be a natural amphitheatre and within that we have an events programme for all year round.” Coming in at 950,000 sq ft, there was a lot of space to fill, but with the £85m mixed-use scheme opening 95% pre-let, mainly to brands new to the city, it was a gamble that paid off. First time additions to Southampton include: All Bar One, Bill’s, Byron, Cabana, Cau, Cosmo, Five Guys, Franco Manca, Jamie’s Italian, Kupp, L’Osteria, Red Dog Saloon, Thaikun, The Diner, The Real Greek, Wahaca, Zizzi, Hollywood Bowl and De Lux Cinema, the majority of which are already trading. Wells was particularly enthusiastic about authentic world kitchen eatery, Cosmo. To top off the restaurant offering, inside the scheme are spaces for pop-up food vendors, allowing a rolling mix of different cuisines to trial their business in a high-footfall area. The mains and water needs for these are accommodated for by covered boxes which blend in to the interior design. “Westquay is the principal retail destination on the central south coast,” says Wells. “It’s been underprovided in catering, and there’s pent up demand from dining operators to be represented here in the city. We had John Lewis customers who were coming into Westquay, shopping at John Lewis but not necessarily coming out and dining because there wasn’t the available offer.” This gap had now, surely, been filled. “It’s about is creating desirability,” Wells concludes. “It’s about creating destinations that restaurants and retailers want to have representation in, it’s about creating a destination shoppers want to come to and it’s about creating environments where the indigenous population want to live, shop and work in.”


01/03/2017 09:04:08

Shopping Centre Magazine March 2017  
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