The mall currently has 200,000 sq ft-plus of vacant space. Credit: via Royal Pilgrim

Leisure the focus in Eldon Square overhaul

Reworking the former Debenhams store and creating a 120,000 sq ft family attraction in the former Eldon Leisure Centre space will drive the Newcastle shopping centre’s proposed revamp.

The departure of Debenhams, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and others has left Eldon Square with more than 200,000 sq ft of unused retail floorspace.

Work is now under way to repurpose the Debenhams unit on St Andrew’s Way. Work have already started to bring a “major retail brand” to the lower two floors of the space. Accounting for 62,500 sq ft, it was reported in early October that legal agreements were under way.

At top floor level will be a new destination attraction offering “a unique blend of culture, art, entertainment, street food and beverages, with an internal events space”

By removing what are described as limited parts of the building’s roof, there will also be a recessed external seating area with a retractable roof.

Elsewhere “a national family leisure operator” is being lined up for a project that will shrink the volume of retail space in favour of leisure.

The former Eldon Leisure Centre, much of which has lain empty since 2020, will join with the upper mall level to the south of Blackett Street to create a suitable large format space to house the operator.

This operator will use the 120,000 sq ft space to provide a wide array of indoor activities from arcade games and virtual reality, to crazy golf and electric karting. This will combine with F&B and live entertainment.

While there are many examples of combined food hall and event spaces being used by developers and councils to reshape and broaden the retail environment, the leisure attraction is a step that looks similar to that pursued by Grosvenor to replace Debenhams at Liverpool ONE, where Gravity is now operating a £10m indoor leisure attraction.

External changes are proposed to modernise the Blackett Street frontage, to introduce a terrace garden overlooking Old Eldon Square and provide a separate ground floor entrance for the leisure operator.

Eldon Square  is now preparing planning applications for the twin projects, and will put the plans on display ahead of that, using the former Paperchase unit at St Andrew’s Way in Eldon Square on Saturday 2 December between 10am and 5pm.

The Debenhams roofspace will be reworked. Credit: via Royal Pilgrim

Cormac Hamilton, general manager of Eldon Square, said: “Since taking responsibility for the management of Eldon Square, we have worked hard to ensure that vacant retail space within the Shopping Centre is reoccupied by new retailers wherever possible. However, large units such as the former Debenhams have been purpose-built as department stores, which makes them difficult to re-let unaltered.

“We are confident that we can soon announce the retailer who will be taking two floors within the former Debenhams department store, and we are delighted that the remaining space will also be brought back into productive use.”

MAPP manages Eldon Square on behalf its ownership. Since intu went into administration, the centre has been 60% owned by intu Debenture and 40% by the public sector.

Hamilton continued: “The leisure occupier that we are in advanced talks with is a leader in their field and they will bring something truly unique to Newcastle. They will act as incubators for local culinary and musical talent, offering a platform to showcase their skills to both residents and visitors.

“Complementing this will be the national family leisure operator and their phenomenal range of indoor fun and entertainment for all. The former Leisure Centre is an amazing space for the city centre. Combining this with adjacent space creates an extraordinary venue. The breadth of the operator’s offer means that they should have something for everyone under one roof.”

Further details will be added to the online consultation page following the weekend event.

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