Glasgow’s St Enoch centre is hoping that a refurbishment and the arrival of Hamleys will revitalise it. Tim Danaher reports

To make an impact in the UK’s second shopping city, a new scheme has to do something a little different. That was the challenge facing the developers extending and refurbishing Glasgow’s St Enoch centre.

After all, the city already has a first-class shopping offer and all the obvious anchor tenants. And with St Enoch having been neglected and developed a reputation for being at the value-oriented end of the spectrum, the job facing Canadian developer Ivanhoe Cambridge became doubly hard.

The answer wasn’t one of the obvious shopping centre anchors. Instead, St Enoch will be the home of the first standalone Hamleys store in the UK outside its famous Regent Street base.

In what is likely to be the last busy autumn of shopping centre openings for a good few years, the headlines are being grabbed by the big new developments in Cardiff and Aberdeen. But St Enoch’s redevelopment and extension is a big deal too, regaining the initiative for Glasgow’s city centre after out-of-town openings such as Silverburn – now up for sale after its parent company was placed into administration earlier this month – and Braehead, and revitalising a scheme that had fallen off the pace in a city where the retail scene rarely stays still for long.

Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, St Enoch was a landmark when it was completed by the Church Commissioners and Sears Properties in 1989. Its unusual structure featured a giant glass canopy over the centre, built separately from the stores under it – leading it to be dubbed the Glasgow Greenhouse.

But as happens with architecturally cutting-edge developments, it aged rapidly and what looked innovative in the late 1980s looked decidedly tired by the start of the 21st century. Shopping developments elsewhere in the city – notably the John Lewis-anchored Buchanan Galleries at the other end of Buchanan Street – attracted the new tenants leaving the tenant mix of St Enoch looking distinctly less impressive.

But St Enoch retained some crucial strengths that Ivanhoe Cambridge – for which St Enoch is its first UK investment – is seeking to capitalise on with its refurbishment and expansion of the scheme from 750,000 sq ft to 1 million sq ft. Its location at the foot of the now very desirable Buchanan Street, on a key junction in the so-called retail Z – so called because of the configuration of the streets, with Sauchiehall at the top, Buchanan at the middle and Argyle at the bottom – has become increasingly valuable given the steady improvements in that street’s tenant mix.

However, even this prime position couldn’t be capitalised on because although St Enoch sat immediately opposite the bottom of the city’s top shopping street, its entrances were tucked away from the main pedestrian flow, and the centre was hidden behind a 200 metre row of existing frontages. It became clear to Ivanhoe Cambridge that just a straightforward refurbishment of the centre wasn’t going to be enough.

The solution was to completely reconfigure the centre, punching out a new entrance on to Argyle Street where it meets Buchanan Street to create what the developer’s vice-president of leasing Richard Kingston calls “a natural racetrack”. At the same time, consent was gained to extend the centre into the square around St Enoch’s subway station to create a more vibrant outdoor area.

The £100m investment will add 40 new stores to the centre and, as well as Hamleys, H&M is one of the big draws – opening a 32,000 sq ft store that will be among its biggest in Scotland. Boots is enlarging its existing store while Tesco is opening a ground floor store.

At the heart of the plan has been to attract younger fashion brands keen for their first exposure on a standalone basis in Glasgow, and while Kingston concedes that leasing has been challenging, the scheme is nearly 80% let ahead of the opening at the end of the next month.

Tenants new to Glasgow include G-Star, Pulp, Follie Follie and clothing brand Henleys. “This is a shopping area where most names are already here and so we’re looking at companies that are expanding or newer brands,” says Kingston. “Henleys is a fantastic brand which sells well in wholesale in Scotland.”

Game on

The centrepiece though will be Hamleys, and based on the experience of the Dundrum shopping centre outside Dublin, where Hamleys also opened a standalone store, Kingston is convinced that the store will serve as a draw for children and their parents.

“Without a shadow of a doubt Hamleys will bring people from Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland,” he says.

The big draw for Hamleys was the location, according to Hamleys head of retail and marketing Nigel Wheatley. “It’s always about the right location, and where St Enoch is on the golden Z will give us an extraordinarily good presence in the UK’s second biggest retail city.”

From Hamleys’ point of view the challenge has been to combine the best of the traditions of the brand with creating something that is distinctively Scottish – attracting not just locals but some of the 3.2 million tourists who pass through Glasgow every year.

“We’ve taken design cues from Regent Street but we’ve localised it,” says Wheatley, explaining that Scottish products will be sold where possible and that local landmarks – such as Glasgow’s famous Armadillo building – will be reflected in the design.

At 22,000 sq ft the store is just under half the size of the Regent Street shop but, unlike the multi-storied original, the Glasgow store has the benefit of being on a single floor.

While Hamleys and H&M will bring the wow factor to the new part of the centre, the challenge remains to breath new life into the existing parts, where Debenhams and Bhs are two of the major tenants. The existing scheme is hugely complex with old and new buildings, and some really odd quirks – such as a Debenhams store with no ground floor and a tunnel going through the middle of the centre itself taking cars into the car park.

Footfall has suffered owing to the disruption of the building works, although its very deliberately mass market, fast-food driven food court appears to remain popular despite all the works.

Kingston is acutely aware of the need to ensure that what’s still there gets a lift, and acres of very 1980s beige panelling are being removed and replaced with a more modern look for the existing parts of the scheme. “It was so dated and we didn’t want a schizophrenic shopping centre,” he says.

But that won’t change the tenant mix, which in the existing centre includes a high proportion of locally owned value operations. The aim is to shift to a more aspirational positioning, while retaining strong mass-market credentials. “If you consider Bond Street as a 10 out of 10 tenant mix, this place was more a four out of 10. We’re bringing it up to more like five and a half out of 10,” adds Kingston.

The rents reflect the positioning of the centre with Zone A rents of £165 compared with £250 in Buchanan Street and £195 in Buchanan Galleries, according to Kingston. But he concedes that the upward shift in the tenant mix of the existing centre won’t happen overnight. TK Maxx left as part of the redevelopment, but other smaller value players will gradually be eased out as their leases expire.

The completion of the refurbishment and extension won’t be the end of the story, with further infill development between the older frontages and the centre still possible in the future.

Glasgow is well provisioned with retail but after St Enoch the next cab off the rank is likely to be Land Securities’ expansion of Buchanan Galleries, which will near double the size of the scheme to 1.3 million sq ft.

Marks & Spencer is lined up as the anchor and John Lewis also plans to extend its store. But the project will be a hugely challenging one, involving building over railway lines and the busiest bus station in Europe, and while planning has been secured, the developer is likely to wait until confidence has come back into the market before pressing the button to go ahead.

However, despite recessionary blips the plans for the city and the confidence shown in it by retailers like Hamleys show Glasgow retains its retail vitality. Its position as the UK’s second shopping city seems assured.