The extension to the St David’s scheme in Cardiff is not due to open until 2009, but it has already generated real excitement. Liz Morrell finds out why it will put the Welsh capital on the retail map

The Southwest and Wales may have been a rather neglected retail location in the past but, in the next three years, all that is set to change.

And while Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth have hogged the headlines, Cardiff is soon to gets its own scheme: the£675 million extension to the St David’s Shopping Centre, being built by St David’s Partnership. The joint venture between Land Securities and Capital Shopping Centres will add 967,500 sq ft (89,880 sq m) to the existing centre and create a 1.4 million sq ft (130,060 sq m) scheme, which is due to open in autumn 2009. It is hoped that the new scheme, called St David’s 2, will propel Cardiff from 11th place into the top five retail destinations in the UK.

The development will add more than 100 stores to Cardiff’s city centre, 300 apartments and 21 catering units, as well as improved public facilities including a 55,000 sq ft (5,110 sq m) library. The retail offer will include two department stores, 10 stores for major space users (MSUs) and 94 other retail units.

In addition, the existing shopping centre will be modernised and refurbished, and an extension to Debenhams’ store – which will take its space to 160,000 sq ft (14,865 sq m) – will link the two centres.

One of the most important draws of the new centre will be the arrival in Wales of John Lewis, which will open a 260,000 sq ft (24,155 sq m) store. “The John Lewis factor should attract a number of niche players that aren’t in Cardiff already,” says Hartnell Taylor Cook retail partner Chris Thomas.

With two years to go until opening – and a number of other major schemes due to open in Wales and the Southwest before then – lettings for St David’s 2 are at an early stage. However, Capital Shopping Centres insists there is sufficient demand for the centre and claims there are a number of retailers that want to follow John Lewis in making their Welsh debut by taking a store in Cardiff.

“We have great interest from a lot of retailers not just new to Cardiff, but to Wales too,” says Capital Shopping Centres asset management director Caroline Kirby. New Look has confirmed it will take its second Cardiff store in the development and Kirby says other signings should be announced in the new year. Mobile phone units are also understood to have been agreed.

“At Mapic, we hosted our second lettings event, which was really well represented. We had a number of European retailers that are really excited about Cardiff,” says Kirby.

Enabling works on the centre began in 2006, while the construction of steel works and lift and stairwell structures began in October this year. “We are well under way with construction and our first big handover is the John Lewis shell at the end of next August for its fitout,” says Andrew Dudley, project director of the St David’s Partnership for Land Securities, which is responsible for construction and project management of the site. Cladding of the department store will start next month.

Unlike many of its regional counterparts, Cardiff has a fairly strong retail offer already, with modern units in the St David’s centre and on Queen Street. However, the new centre will enhance the city’s retail reputation and more than double the number of stores on offer at the scheme – the existing St David’s centre comprises only 70.

Building on success
“In Cardiff, there have been a number of developments on Queen Street that have addressed retailers’ requirements. Zara, for example, has come in as a result,” says Stephen Jones, partner at property agent King Sturge. “It’s building on the retail that is there already, but it’s also bringing in more of a leisure opportunity to get people to stay longer,” he says.

Thomas agrees. “It’s a well-designed scheme that should put Cardiff firmly where it should be. There are some areas on the edge of Queen Street that may suffer, but the MSUs will stay and Queen Street will remain pretty strong,” he says.

St David’s 2 will also include the Hayes, an area that will comprise a mix of high-end fashion retailers and is being touted as the Bond Street of Cardiff, according to Dudley. Reiss has taken a store there and others are soon to follow. “We are talking to a number of aspirational fashion brands,” confirms Kirby.

In the existing St David’s Shopping Centre, demolition work is now complete and refurbishment is under way. Public areas will also be revamped, work on which will begin after Christmas. The aim, says Dudley, is that both centres will have the same completion date, so that everything appears seamless in its unveiling to shoppers.

The new development is also forcing other areas of the city to raise their game and stores are being refurbished or opened ahead of the launch. The likes of Topshop/Topman and Orange Retail have relocated in the area already. “We look after Queens Arcade, which is the main route to St David’s 2. It is already seeing the St David’s 2 effect, as retailers are coming in there a bit early,” says Jones.

Dudley insists the new centre will prove a huge draw – not just through its retail mix, but also the standard of the centre itself. “What we are doing, both in the public area and the arcade spaces, is of the highest quality. We’ve also built a full-scale mock-up of two bays of the centre to get the detailing right and show retailers and tenants how it will look,” he says.

“This is going to be the retail heart of the city,” says Kirby. “It is really a city centre regeneration. There has been so much investment in Cardiff and this complements it.”

And Kirby argues that Cardiff will hold its own – despite the fact that some of the neighbouring centres are opening sooner or, in the case of Plymouth and Exeter, have launched already. “They are all different cities with different catchments. In Cardiff, we can only go by the retailers’ response. It is a fantastic development and it is strengthening Cardiff’s position as a European capital city,” says Kirby.

“It is enormously important and it will shift where the city centre is,” agrees Dudley. If he is right, Cardiff may well be breaking into that top five.

Since we last visited...

Drake Circus in Plymouth, which opened last October, attracted 16 million visitors in its first year alone. This September, the opening of the Princesshay development in Exeter proved equally popular. “The trading performance over the past two months has been higher than expected across the board. That has been sustained and has surprised everyone, but represents the quality of the catchment and is an endorsement of the mix,” says John Grimes, retail leasing director for Princesshay at Land Securities.

The centre opened 95 per cent let. Apple launched its first store in the Southwest at the development in November and, by Christmas, Beaverbrooks, Cult Clothing, East and Moss will also have opened there, leaving only two units unlet. Of 50 stores, five MSUs and one department store, 37 are new to the city.

Bristol’s Cabot Circus (above) will open next autumn 80 per cent let, thanks partly to its coup in attracting Harvey Nichols to the scheme. “We are quite a long way ahead of where we expected to be,” says Bristol Alliance leasing director Keith Stone. The first retail handovers have taken place, with anchor House of Fraser having taken its store in October. Harvey Nichols will get its store by the end of the year.

Like Exeter, Cabot Circus is attracting a number of new retailers to the area, many drawn by the appeal of Harvey Nichols. “When we open, nearly 75 per cent of our retailers will be new,” says Stone.

Neighbouring stores in Broadmead are also being revamped to ensure a seamless integration of old and new. “Many retailers on the approach to Broadmead will upgrade their stores to the latest shopfit,” says Stone. “The likes of Zara and New Look are taking stores that are among their largest in the UK. We also have a number of Carnaby Street-type retailers such as G-Star coming,” he says. “It will be a genuine alternative to London’s West End.”

In neighbouring Bath, the Southgate scheme will open its doors in 2009/2010. The scheme will offer 56 prime retail units, anchored by a 125,000 sq ft (11,615 sq m) Debenhams.

Meanwhile, in Newport, there are three major city centre schemes under way, being managed by urban regeneration company Newport Unlimited. UBS is spending£20 million on refurbishing and extending the Kingsway shopping centre, which has attracted Wilkinson as an anchor. The work, which was due to complete in January, will go on for a further six months.

“It’s a re-speccing of units, with a new roof and walls being knocked out. It’s a fairly fundamental change – not just a lick of paint,” says Newport Unlimited chief executive John Burrows.

In March, work will begin on a new centre called Friars Walk, which will include Debenhams and Marks & Spencer as anchors, as well as 70 other retail units. It is due to open in September 2010.

Thirdly, Modus’s Cambrian Centre is being renamed City Spires and redeveloped and will also open in September 2010. “All the 1970s stuff will bite the dust. Newport has been underperforming as a city centre because there hasn’t been the right size of shops. There is a desperate need to add more shopping space,” says Burrows.

And, like his counterparts, Burrows is confident Wales and the Southwest won’t suffer from retail overkill. “All the centres have proceeded because there is an economy strong enough to take them. There is a good market for everyone,” he says.

Dudley agrees. “All of the areas needed and wanted to take a big step forward and are doing that,” he says.

It seems Wales and the Southwest is likely to be a poor relation no more.