Belfast Telegraph

Christmas rush of new shops to transform Belfast's retail landscape

University move and rates change a cue for bidding wars and relocations

By Lesley Houston

A number of new retail arrivals are set to open in Belfast city centre in time for Christmas, it's been claimed.

The expanding retail marketplace precedes a rate revaluation which comes into effect next April – after prolonged complaints from retailers that rates are too high.

Rates will be based on 2013 values instead of 2001 values – which, it is hoped, will restore balance to the rating system.

Commercial property agents Savills said a new occupant will soon be unveiled for the former Easons at 20 Donegall Place.

Costa Coffee at Victoria Square shopping centre is relocating to a double unit within the mall.

Savills associate director Claire McAnallen said a "bidding war" was taking place over a unit on Arthur Street – a location which has evolved into a retail hotspot with high-end shops like Avoca, Cath Kidston, Jack Wills and Jigsaw.

She said Victoria Square and Cornmarket was a "prime pitch" with retailers – but that other sites were developing for other reasons.

"Royal Avenue in particular appears to be a hotspot for cafes and pubs on the back of the University of Ulster redevelopment which is due to be phased over the next few years.

"Like most agents, Savills are waiting to see what impact the new rating revaluation, effective from spring 2015, will have on the city centre's rates as this could be a powerful game changer, either way, for how 2015 might look for Belfast's retail landscape."

She said a new tenant in the services sector was preparing to set up at the former Karen Millen on Donegall Place after the ladieswear shop relocated to Victoria Square.

But despite some improvements, there are vacant units on Donegall Place, including the old site of shoe shop Aldo, which announced its closure at the end of May.

Alana Coyle, head of retail at commercial property agency CBRE, said she believed the demise of Aldo at Donegall Place was due to the difficulties the Canadian firm had with servicing just one shop in Northern Ireland.

"You find it's hard to make it profitable when it's only one store," she said. But she agreed that retail in the city was expanding. "There are a number of deals with retailers in the pipeline due to complete over the next three or four months in time for stores to be open before Christmas across the board for Belfast.

"That includes expansions for existing retailers also in place and a number of new entrants, ones coming to Northern Ireland for the first time."

Meanwhile, Spanish brand Mango is preparing to open in Victoria Square. A franchisee of the retailer moved into Donegall Place in February 2004 but it closed down within a relatively short period.

The letting is the most recent boost to the Belfast retail market and follows openings by Joules, Dr Marten, Bravissimo, and Taking Shape. Simply Be and Jacamo are also due to open at CastleCourt Shopping Centre.

Belfast Telegraph