Assets News

Rebranding of the Mall Galleries could help it to compete with Cabot Circus

Bristol city centre is the setting for a tale of two shopping schemes.

Cabot Circus has just five vacant units, the highest occupancy since it opened in 2008. But the neighbouring Galleries has 13 empty units.

The Galleries has big plans for improvement. It is a month since HSBC European Active Real Estate Trust bought what was then known as the Mall Galleries, Bristol from the Mall Fund for £50.2m. The Mall Corporation paid Norwich Union £123m for the 330,000 sq ft shopping centre in 2004.

The trust has brought in Hark Group, which is erasing evidence of the Mall Fund's tenure. The shocking-pink signposting and digital-information screens that are a feature of all the Mall Fund's centres have already been removed.

More significantly, the new owner has removed the title "Mall" from the centre and reverted to "the Galleries" – the name chosen by Norwich Union when it opened nearly 20 years ago.

David Henderson-Williams, a director of Hark, says there was "a lot of visual clutter" in the scheme. "All we have done so far is rebranding," he adds. "Going back to 'the Galleries' has been well received locally. There was a clamour to get the old name, because of confusion between the Mall at Cribbs Causeway and the Mall Galleries, Bristol."

The vacant shops are mainly a consequence of retailers going into administration. Henderson-Williams says the group will reconfigure the space. "We are looking at more 'major space users', and to create units of between 10,000 sq ft and 15,000 sq ft. We'll do this by moving people around. We have spent the last three weeks talking to existing and prospective tenants and talking to the original architect, Leslie Jones, about cosmetic improvements to the entrances."

He adds that Bristol City Council will receive a planning application to improve the Galleries' entrances in the spring.

He admits that the Galleries was affected by the opening of Cabot Circus. Its eastern entrance leads out to Quakers' Friars, where Land Securities and Hammerson developed shops that sell Cabot's more luxurious products.

Cabot's 120 shops, 20 restaurants and a 13-screen Cinema de Lux has propelled Bristol into 13th place in the UK's retail rankings, as shown by CACI research that grades a location's shops by quality and quantity.

Footfall increased last year by 11% compared with 2009.

Suzi Clay, Land Securities' portfolio director, called the ranking a "massive achievement".

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