The St James Centre revamp has been billed “the single greatest shake up of retail” in the Capital’s long history.
A host of stellar top-name brands have been approached to open their doors inside the 42,500 sq m St James Quarter, which will take the place of the St James Centre – with cash registers expected to ring to the tune of £22 million a year.
The eventual mix of shops is understood to be a marriage of high-end luxury stores and the latest on-trend brands to target both mature, moneyed shoppers and a more youthful crowd.
However, it is not just the wallets and purses of homegrown shoppers that bosses have their eyes on, but those of overseas visitors.
At present, tourists spend £81 a day on average; a sizeable return but far behind London which rakes in an impressive £107 a day.
Raising daily overseas visitor expenditure in Edinburgh to equal that of London is expected to be worth an additional £180m to the Scottish economy each year.
A retail expert, who asked not to be named, said: “This deal is huge both in terms of scale and what it means for the city. What it does is fix Edinburgh in terms of retail.
“The Capital has had a real weakness in regards of its retail experience in recent times and this development will propel it into the UK’s top shopping destinations.
“It’s easily the biggest shake-up of shopping and retail in the city for generations. Historically there has never been anything as big as this.”
He added: “Glasgow and out-of-town sites have drawn a lot of shoppers away in recent years, but this will put Edinburgh firmly back on the map.
“Harvey Nicks has more or less stood alone.
“This modern attractive retail space will encourage more shoppers to visit the city and the area.”
The last major retail development on this scale was the £10m opening of Harvey Nichols and Multrees Walk retail parade, which were completed in 2002.
But they, Cameron Toll, and the Omni Centre are all dwarfed by the scale and vision offered by the St James Quarter. It has been revealed that central to the plans is a desire to position Edinburgh ahead of Glasgow at the top of Scotland’s shopping tree.
The Capital has lagged behind its rival in the east in recent years. Just 45 miles separates the two cities but, in terms of retail, Edinburgh has been left trailing with Glasgow ranked the UK’s second best shopping destination outside London.
It’s not just on the home front Edinburgh has been left standing either.
Back in 2011, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Edinburgh 25th out of 33 European cities in terms of the range and quality of its retail offering.
And in 2013, Jones Lang LaSalle found that just 46 of 250 key international retailers had a presence in Edinburgh, with the city ranking 56 out of 57 European cities.
Glasgow’s success has largely stemmed from its “Golden Z” of Sauchiehall Street and Argyle Street linked by pedestrianised Buchanan Street.
A central focal point is offered by the Buchanan Galleries shopping complex which opened in 1999.
The centre, managed by Savills but built by the Buchanan Partnership, was a joint venture between St James Quarter developers Henderson Global Investors and Land Securities. In shopper surveys the centre is consistently recognised as one of the top retail destinations in the UK.
It is home to John Lewis and boasts more than 90 shops under one roof, from retail giants to small independents.
At the southern end of Buchanan Street lies the recently revamped St Enoch Centre, home to BHS, Debenhams and Hamleys toy store, while the north end is bolstered by the £70m Atlas shopping development which opened in March 2013, the headline store being a three-level Forever 21 – the American company’s first Scottish store.
Although not wishing to mimic Glasgow’s offering, bosses behind the St James Quarter do want to attract similar international brands and attention.
Key to the project’s success are the transport links the St James Quarter is strategically placed to benefit from: Edinburgh Airport currently welcomes more than nine million passengers a year and the terminus of the city’s tram line sits just yards away at York Place. Meanwhile, the new shopping destination sits directly opposite Edinburgh Waverley Station, used by more than 22 million people each year and adjacent to Edinburgh Bus Station.
A source close to the project said: “A key theme throughout this transformation has been to create a place shoppers enjoy visiting so much so they choose it over shopping online.
“That doesn’t just mean good shops, but ease of access and a unique experience also. The trams being so close were a key consideration.”
As it has been seen there is a considerable body of evidence demonstrating that Edinburgh’s current retail offering is not internationally competitive.
“Enhancing the range and quality of the city’s retail offer to appeal to international consumers will allow Edinburgh to “move upmarket”.
Initial estimates suggest that the regeneration will increase retail expenditure by overseas visitors by £583m over the period 2014 to 2040 (£22m per annum) as well as increasing retail expenditure by visitors from elsewhere in the UK by £290m (£11m per annum).
Edinburgh Airport communications manager Gordon Robertson said: “We welcome all investment in the city and we believe a scheme such as this will assist us greatly in selling Edinburgh to the world.
“The provision of a five-star hotel is something that will please airlines such as Qatar and United.
“The airport can provide well-heeled high-net individuals to Edinburgh, but you must give them what they want.”
This sentiment was echoed by Marketing Edinburgh chief John Donnelly who said: “This project is a game-changer given the sheer scale and types of brand being mentioned.
“It will bring a rich mix of brand owners, retailers and shoppers to the city.
“It is in a fantastic location and the site’s connectivity will be a key feature with [the] trams on its doorstep.”
WHAT’S IN STORE DURING THE REVAMP
AT present the St James Centre is home to 70 stores, anchor tenant John Lewis, the Post Office and the 143-bed King James Thistle hotel.
The centre also boasts more than 2,000 sq m of office space within New St Andrew House. However, due to asbestos issues this has lain empty for several years.
The only store that will remain is John Lewis. Bosses have stated their intention to continue trading throughout the works which are expected to get under way in summer 2015.
It is understood that John Lewis plans to refit its store in parallel with the overall development – this work is expected to be completed by 2021.
Andrew Murphy, John Lewis’ head of retail, who formerly ran the Edinburgh store, said the company was not prepared to move from what will be a building site for three years.
He is confident the retailer will be able to trade through any building works without too much disruption to sales.
Mr Murphy previously told the Evening News: “When we refurbished Edinburgh in 2001-2, we worried about that. We spent £35m, it took us 20 months. We were convinced we were going to lose 15 to 20 per cent of our trade. We lost six per cent during that time. Loyal customers are incredibly resilient about these things.”
Henderson Global Investors has ensured vacant possession of all other units within the St James Centre by March 2015.
By Graeme Birse, Director of Edinburgh Institute at Napier University
THIS is the one project that can drive the future of retail in Edinburgh.
The St James Quarter is a lynchpin in terms of retail offer development in the city over the next 20 years.
There had been a lot of frustration over the stop-start nature of this project; this is great news for the city, shoppers and visitors.
What this project will do is force all potential partners, both private and public, to look at Princes Street and the West End and work out just what it is they want from them.
In Glasgow, the Golden Z of Buchanan Street, Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street has worked amazingly well.
This could easily be replicated here in Edinburgh.
Over the last decade, the city centre has evolved into more bars and restaurants and the night time economy in the West End, with retail being more towards the east.
Princes Street must be “redefined” for this happy triangle model to work.