The completion of a £300million expansion at Meadowhall will have real knock-on benefits for the Peak District, according to bosses.
A new 330,000 sq ft “Leisure Hall” containing restaurants, a cinema, a gym, entertainment facilities and space for events, as well as around 25 retail units is being planned.
British Land, the site’s joint owner, recently took the project back to the drawing board to put more emphasis on food, drink and other activities.The changes will help to ensure shoppers can spend more time in the area rather than just visiting their favourite stores.
The upgrade follows a huge two-year £60 million refurbishment of the rest of Meadowhall which was officially completed at the end of last year. The shopping centre was brought bang up to date with the biggest overhaul since its opening nearly three decades ago - with a further £40 million being spent on more than 70 store upgrades during the project.
It is hoped that as more people make extended trips to Meadowhall as a result of the continuing improvements that will result in knock-on benefits for the surrounding area with the Peaks being seen as a prime location for those making a weekend or short break out of their visit.
Centre manager Darren Pearce said: “We want Meadowhall to be a real destination for people - we have the Peak District on our doorstep as well as great theatres, hotels and a whole host of other attractions in the area.
“It’s a real evolving market at the moment and shoppers are trying different locations out - and I would say to them look at the environment we have here.”
Shopkeepers may have to wait some time for the effects of the new leisure hall however, with the expansion not set to be completed until after 2022.
Meanwhile, it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas at Meadowhall - and footfall has been steadily increasing over the last three months in the build-up to the festive shop-a-thon.
Mr Pearce said among the key drivers of the centre’s recent boon has been its outlets reflecting a much more polarised market - a mix of prestige and value retailers - with the likes of Primark lining up alongside luxury designer shop Flannels.
He said: “It’s a broad church and we have premium and exemplar stores alongside value retailers. Our investment, messaging and creating the right environment with a modern day contemporary shopping centre has meant we are now at 99 per cent occupancy.”
It’s a far cry from when Meadowhall opened in 1990 and was created on former industrial land after the big steel factories which once dominated the Lower Don Valley fell into decline. According to a 2015 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, over the past 25 years the mall has contributed £4.4 billion to the city region, generating a further £1.9 billion for the wider UK economy.
There are now 290 outlets, with 34 new brands appearing in the centre during the last year.
Mr Pearce added: “We are at the point of celebrating where we are. I think if you haven’t been to Meadowhall you will be in awe of the transformation. It’s brand new in terms of what it looks like.”
Primark has recently upsized, the Apple Store has undergone a £10m transformation and there are now artisan markets, personal shoppers and success stories such as chic online fashion store Joe Browns deciding to buck the trend of brands gravitating towards cyberspace and opening up a physical space inside the centre.
All this expansion has resulted in an “awful lot of jobs” including many from Derbyshire who are employed at the centre. More than 8,500 jobs in total are currently supported by Meadowhall’s activities.
And it looks as though owners are planning for the long term with sustainability a focus - Meadowhall is thought to have the most solar panels out of any shopping centre in the UK.