Pri­mark ‘on the hunt’ for new home one week on from blaze

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY CHRIS­TINE CAR­RI­GAN

RE­TAIL gi­ant Pri­mark may move into tem­po­rary premises in Belfast city cen­tre as a stop-gap while its old Bank Build­ings home re­mains out of bounds, it has emerged.

The retailer is un­der­stood to be look­ing into al­ter­na­tive sites in the city cen­tre, one week on from the cat­a­strophic fire which ripped through its Bank Build­ings premises.

Po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions in­clude empty units in Castle­court shop­ping cen­tre, close to its Royal Avenue home.

But the com­pany has not given any fur­ther de­tails of the po­si­tion of its 360 mem­bers of staff in Belfast, who were to be paid for last week.

Nor has the com­pany con­firmed its plans to re­cruit an­other 100 staff for the store, which was to see the com­ple­tion of a £30m ex­ten­sion over the next few months.

Nicky Fin­nieston, a di­rec­tor at com­mer­cial prop­erty agents Lis­ney, said: “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.”

Mean­while, a num­ber of shops in­clud­ing Aldo, Zara, Tesco Metro, City Pic­nic and Aba­cus Beads re­main closed as they are within a safety cor­don in close prox­im­ity to the shell of Bank Build­ings.

Karen Mcgovern, the owner of Aba­cus Beads, has said she ex­pects her unit on Cas­tle Street to re­main in­ac­ces­si­ble for three months.

But she told the Belfast Telegraph that the busi­ness rates paid on her unit have now been sus­pended after talks in­volv­ing Belfast City Coun­cil, Belfast Cham­ber of Com­merce and Land & Prop­erty Ser­vices.

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.

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