Commercial property agents hoping Primark could relocate in city centre
Commercial property agents have said they are hopeful that Primark can relocate elsewhere in the city centre, a week on from the blaze that tore the heart out of Belfast's retail sector.
A spokesman for CastleCourt shopping centre, which has around a dozen vacancies, said that it was too early to have a short list of potential locations drawn up but said the retail giant is looking to relocate within the city.
Nicky Finnieston, director of retail and investment agency at agents Lisney, said he is hopeful that there are vacant premises large enough in the city centre which could house a temporary Primark store.
"Relocation probably would be a viable option, because I assume that it is going to take a number of years before the old building is restored.
"There are a few empty units in the city centre which could be big enough to house Primark. There is not a huge pile of options to choose from, but there are definitely vacancies."
An inferno broke out at the former Bank Buildings, which housed Primark, just before 11am last Tuesday. The blaze ripped through all five floors of the old building but the new £30m expansion remained unscathed, which has led to some speculation that the store might operate out of those premises.
Bank Buildings is currently undergoing structural assessment to determine its future.
Before the fire broke out, the store was also undergoing a major recruitment drive for 100 new employees to join the approximately 360 already working at the Royal Avenue store. Primark would not confirm if the store would continue to recruit or if they were considering alternative properties within the city centre to operate from.
A spokesman for Primark said: "We are working closely with our team in Belfast to ensure they are supported and we will provide a full update in due course."
Meanwhile, other businesses affected by the blaze are also looking for a new home. There are still 14 shops unable to open to the public as structural assessments of the Primark building continue.
Last week, Abacus Beads on Castle Street posted on Facebook that it was looking for a new home, stating that the store could be closed for up to three months.
After Belfast City Council held an emergency review of rates for stores inside the exclusion zone, owner Kathleen McGovern told the Belfast Telegraph that her business rates have been suspended for the foreseeable future, with Land and Property Services (LPS) cancelling her direct debit. "My rates have been completely suspended and LPS have cancelled my direct debit because I am inside the cordon."
The City Picnic eatery located in the old Anderson and McAuley building on the corner of Castle Street has also said that the brand is reassessing when and where it will operate from.
Co-owner Arthur McAnerney, who runs the restaurant with business partner Gavin Gregg, said: "We are already talking around three to six months until opening again. When we do open, the retail landscape isn't going to be what we imagined before the fire. It's going to be dramatically different.
"The more immediate thing that needs to happen is support for the local businesses. Businesses like Tesco I'm sure have contingency plans where they can send staff to other stores - but City Picnic cannot.
"My staff are in shock, but we're going to do everything we can. We haven't given up, we've made that clear to staff. We're confident we're going to find a route out of this but we're going to need help."
McDonalds, Zara, Aldo, Skechers and Tesco Metro are among the bigger retail premises which remain closed.
In close proximity to where the blaze took place there are empty units in CastleCourt, along with Spencer House on Royal Avenue and the former BHS on Castle Place. Department store Guineys is to operate from a sub-divided unit within the old BHS.