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Outlet retail park in Banbridge poised for new jobs and facilities

The Outlet retail park in Banbridge, Co Down is to be relaunched with more leisure attractions in an investment prompted by its owners – Ulster Bank parent, Royal Bank of Scotland.

An eight-screen cinema, kids' play area and two restaurants would be added to the mall as it aims to broaden its appeal beyond shopping.

Agents, The Lotus Group have been appointed to submit the planning application on behalf of the bank, which absorbed the centre into its property holding company West Register in 2011.

The Lotus Group said the proposals would prompt investments of £6m to £8m by leisure operators and create another 200 positions at the centre, which already employs 500 people.

They said the revamped centre could be ready next year, with a garden centre to be added in a second phase.

Alastair Coulson, director of asset management at the Lotus Group – which is formerly known as The Murdock Group – said: "Our research demonstrates that visitors expect a mix and vibrancy of uses for what is often a family day out.

"This is something we can offer by consolidating the retail offering and introducing a leisure element to the scheme to create a family friendly destination.

"The Outlet already has excellent links with Banbridge town centre and we are confident that this change of use will inject a new energy into the project, which will secure the jobs of 500 local people and create up to 200 more."

Its retail offering has faced stiff competition from Kildare Village, a designer shopping outlet about one hour's drive from Dublin.

Paul Anderson, managing director of Omniplex Cinemas, which will operate the picturehouse, said: "As part of Omniplex Group's ongoing expansion plans we have identified a need in the Banbridge area for a regional cinema with extensive on-site parking and complementary food and beverage offerings.

"This proposal offers a fantastic opportunity for the provision of a cinema complex that will facilitate a £3m investment by Omniplex and create in the region of 40-50 jobs.

"It will also offer the latest technical digital projection standards and blockbuster releases to attract people from a catchment area stretching from Newry to Lisburn."

Mr Coulson said the relaunched Outlet would attract visitors into Banbridge from a much wider area, with the cinema alone expected to attract over 300,000 visitors every year.

He added: "The changes will bring The Outlet offer into line with other successful centres in Great Britain and Ireland, and significantly reduce the current vacancy rate to just 10%."

In June 2011, when West Register's purchase of the centre took place, around 60 its 82 units were occupied – a vacancy rate of around 25%.

The Outlet was planned in 2005 at a time of growing cross-border trade, when hordes of southern shoppers were coming north. But the trend did not last and the deluge of shoppers from the Republic slowed to a trickle.

The owners hope to reverse the relative stagnation of The Outlet by including more leisure attractions.

In addition, an earlier planning application for a McDonald's drive-through restaurant was submitted in December, while Tesco is also planning to start work on a 60,000 sq ft Extra store later this year.

Project will be welcome boost for all, writes Donald C McFetridge

It's always cheering to hear good news in the retail sector, especially in today's highly competitive retail market.

Therefore, the fact The Outlet has announced plans to create an additional 200 full and part-time jobs and help to secure the centre's existing 500 jobs through what amounts to a major re-positioning project, is great news for consumers, retail employees and the new operators of the new-look Outlet.

Retailing and leisure are co-dependent, and today's demanding, discriminating and discerning consumers are looking for more than just places to shop when they drive to retail destinations like The Outlet or Junction One. They are looking for a 'day out' experience where they can combine retail therapy with a visit to the cinema, a quality restaurant and engage in other leisure activities.

Recent research published in the US has indicated when consumers go 'shopping', 'to buy something' is sixth on their list. Lessons could be learned from Adidas, which yesterday, opened its first new concept store in China, including a 'tunnel' entrance similar to those at football stadiums, and new changing facilities, where consumers can engage with brands and consumers with similar interests.

Whether a new multi-screen cinema complex and a garden centre can do the same trick at The Outlet, remains to be seen.

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