High hopes are pinned on Wrenbridge and L&G Cambridge Scheme

Cambridge’s already vibrant retail offering is about to be improved with the refurbishment of the Grafton Centre.

Having bought the 500,000 sq ft shopping centre for £99m last year, Legal & General Property is embarking on an £18.5m renovation programme that will modernise the mall and bring in new tenants.

As well as a new entrance and much-needed roofing work, the refurbishment will facilitate a new 15,000 sq ft store for French sports giant Decathlon – its second in-town shop in the UK.

The store is being created by relocating two independent fashion retailers, Yours and New Stories. Other independents – many of which traded from a darkened ground-floor corner called Eden Hall and offered services such as key cutting and tattooing – were not so fortunate. In March, L&G ended their short-term leases.

They will make way for a temporary entrance to Grafton from Burleigh Street, while the Fitzroy Street entrance is transformed into a triple-glazed atrium.

“They [the independent retailers] had been paying dramatically reduced rents for a number of years, selling everything from jewellery to secondhand clothes. Some were trading better than others. We talked about relocation, but we couldn’t make it stack up,” says Tom Williams, senior asset manager at L&G, who is nevertheless keen to retain some independents so as to differentiate from the identikit mall filled with only national chains.

New opportunities

In the year between the acquisition and the start of the refurbishment work, L&G worked hard on improving the tenant mix including prompting HMV to assign the lease of its unit on Fitzroy Street to homeware store Wilko.

The former BHS unit also throws up opportunities. Positioned between Topshop and H&M, either could expand into the neighbouring unit, but there are other options as well.

L&G had assumed the retailer’s days were numbered before acquiring Grafton.

“BHS was poorly performing even before we bought [Grafton]. We always worked on the basis that there was a strong likelihood that BHS would be given back to us,” says Williams. “There are a number of scenarios. At the moment, the preferred option is to have fashion on the ground floor and A3 [food and beverage] on the first floor.”

Grafton Centre

The Grafton Centre of today – Source: Keith Edkins/Creative Commons

The first floor of the centre already accommodates Burger King and Bella Italia, and Williams believes the upper level of BHS could be reconfigured to take five more restaurants, varying in size from 1,000 sq ft to 2,500 sq ft.

Under BHS’s voluntary company arrangement, agreed before it went into administration, the rent was slashed, but L&G had the right to break the lease, which means work could begin quickly on the transformation of the failed store.

Williams also hopes the improvement works will encourage existing retailers to refit their stores in line with the modernisation.

When it completes next summer, the refurbishment will have revitalised an outdated shopping centre. Between them, the Grafton Centre and Grand Arcade – with its more affluent, complementary tenants – will offer Cambridge shoppers a varied, well-balanced retail experience.

Author: Property Week, http://www.propertyweek.com/in-depth/market-features/high-hopes-are-pinned-on-the-renovation-of-a-cambridge-mall/5082325.article