The Grand Arcade in Leeds has long been a forgotten gem in the city’s retail crown, but the future is looking up. Jonathan Brown reports.
Years of dilapidation, increasing numbers of empty units and a reputation as a venue packed with rowdy nightspots left Leeds Grand Arcade in need of help.
All of this has taken its toll on the once bustling Grade II-listed Victorian shopping arcade, between New Briggate and Vicar Lane. But a retail renaissance appears to be on the horizon in what has become a forgotten part of Leeds among shoppers and families.
The early aftershocks of investment in the area are beginning to be felt, developers and traders are looking more favourably upon the area and the arcade’s occupancy levels have rocketed from just 30 per cent to near full capacity in only a few months. Owners ATC Properties have invested more than £700,000 in the arcade over the past 12 months as a wave of optimism continues to grow in what is being dubbed the city’s “Northern Quarter”, following the opening of the £60m Leeds arena.
“The Northern Quarter is definitely on the up, footfall has visibly increased since the First Direct Arena and Handpicked Hall opened,” says Chris Ure, chairman of ATC Properties. “We are experiencing an increase in enquiries from independent occupiers wanting to locate to the Grand Arcade and be part of this vibrant scene,” he says.
The June opening of the two-storey Handpicked Hall has already seen 124 independent retailers sign up to move into its expansive arcade space and has been credited as helping to revive it. Around £100,000 alone has been invested in transforming a large chunk of the arcade’s neglected retail space, which used to house “purgatory” and “heaven” from the arcade’s old Heaven & Hell nightclub, into Handpicked Hall.
With sister venues in Ripon and Skipton, the business works on a department store model to encourage small start-up retailers in food, drink, crafts and fashion to take up space and get a foot on the business ladder. Businesses including a bike shop, Afro-Caribbean bar/restaurant and a new fashion retailer are the latest arrivals mooted in the arcade, which could bring the arcade to near full capacity for the first time in a decade.
Some of the independent retailers in Handpicked Hall have already expressed a desire to bring the building’s famous animated clock back to life through a £25,000 “Save the Grand Clock” campaign. Installed by Wm Potts & Sons of Leeds in 1898, the clock sits above the arcade’s Vicar Lane entrance.
Managing director of Handpicked Hall, Anthony Blackburn, said: “The Grand Arcade is one of the least recognised but most spectacular pieces of Victorian architecture in Leeds. I was told there was a glass wall at the top of Briggate and people don’t come that extra 200 yards as for two generations it’s become known as a destination for nightlife and not for shopping.
“We want to make it a destination for great local shopping and entertainment and, if you like, an entertainment quarter in the city.”
For years, the arcade has been seen as a clubber’s paradise, but the recent closure of its three-storey BED Club could mark the end of an era.
ATC says it has already had enquiries about transforming the venue, and turning at least some of it into small retail units and cafes appears a priority as it looks to move away from the rowdy nightclub tag and boost this historic corner of the city.