Non-retail experiences and the development of a night-time economy will be the best way of generating a renewed interest in Glenrothes town centre.
That’s the view of Simon Usher, asset manager at LaSalle Investment Management who control the Kingdom Shopping Centre, when he addressed members of the Glenrothes Area Futures Group AGM on Tuesday evening.
“Our number one aim for the next year is to get as many new retailers into the centre as possible and then develop an evening economy,“ said Mr Usher.
But he admitted retailing and the traditional requirements of a high street had changed and towns like Glenrothes would have to adapt if they were to survive and prosper in the future.
“Glenrothes has too many shops of a similar size, I’m confident we could lease three big stores if we had the right retail space but sadly we don’t so our focus is on developing leisure opportunities and we have approached gyms, restaurants and non retail companies,” he explained.
“We must also acknowledge that the centre is inward facing, which is great if you are sat in the middle of it but is not attractive as you approach it, to change that would be extremely costly and any future plans would have to be introduced in stages.”
Mr Usher added that his company has a desire to re-develop the eastern end of the town centre around the Albany Gate entrance, but warned they were working to within tight constraints and were struggling to overcome the apathy shown by Co-op over plans breath life into the former department store building.
“While we own the building, the Co-op has a long lease on the property which still has 30 years to run,” he explained.
“The old centre owners CIS/AXA had a good 10 years talking to their sister company Co-op trying to arrange a surrender and were completely unsuccessful and we have spoken to Co-op on a weekly basis in our time and it has proved extremely difficult to get anyone there to make a decision.
He added that while a compulsory purchase order option had not been ruled out, any such move would be fraught with difficulty and potentially costly consequences.
“While the ‘east end’ is unsightly, I’m unsure just smartening it up will make a huge impact, but we have to get movement from Co-op.
“I would love to flatten the area and start again, not least because I feel that would be cheaper that trying to restore it,” said Mr Usher.
And he highlighted the imminent re-opening in March of the Frazer Bowl as a positive move that could be the start of a new leisure quarter in the town.
Lasalle Asset Management, who purchased the Kingdom Shopping Centre on behalf of Mars Pension Trustees in September 2013, said they also remained fully committed to developing the retail aspect of their business, having already found new tenants for 15 of the vacant units.
It was confirmed that a new, first time in the UK, retailer is also to open one its 50 new stores in Glenrothes in the spring.
However, Mr Usher admitted that attracting the major retailers to the town continued to be a challenge.
“I think the possibility of getting the likes of a River Island or similar big name is extremely slim, as many big chains no longer depend on the high street because much of their business is generated on the internet,” he explained.
“Whenever we ask the public who they would want they always reply Primark and Marks and Spencer, but interestingly after that its independent retailers, and that’s what we are working on to bring more of to Glenrothes.
“I don’t want any more pound shops, we have enough of those, we need to give people a reason, other than just for shopping to come to Glenrothes.”
Share of £3 million Fife regeneration fund ... for the right strategy
Glenrothes councillor Altany Craik, chairman of the town’s area committee told the Gazette he relishes the chance to work closely with the centre owners and has hinted at funds being made available when a realistic strategy has been drawn up.
But Mr Craik warned there would be much to do to reinvigorate the Kingdom centre, especially at the eastern end of the town centre.
“The dated buildings at the Albany gate end don’t present well and it is here that we need to focus,” said Mr Craik.
He added: “Redevelopment is the only realistic option, expensive as it will be.
“We cannot tinker with this area as it is the gateway to the centre when arriving in Glenrothes from the A92. The first chance to create an impression, sadly it is not presenting the impression we’d all like.
“Simon and his team are working hard to entice and attract new tenants that will improve the retail offering and this work needs to be in tandem with improvements to the oldest part of the centre.”
And the councillor highlighted financial help that could be made available to the town.
“Fife Council passed, in its budget last week, a fund for developing town centres, there is £3 million to regenerate and improve town centres across Fife, we need to find a way to access that fund to promote and support Glenrothes,” said Mr Craik.
“This will work closely with the Go Glenrothes project, which is about bringing visitors to the town to enjoy the many events and facilities we have here.
“We, as an area committee, are serious about making a difference in Glenrothes and with everyone’s support we will do just that.”