Fresh hopes over £90m Selfridges development

21 Jan 2008

Alison Campsie, The Herald

Selfridges is understood to have appointed a new architect to develop a historic Glasgow site, raising hopes that the luxury chain still intends to open its first store in Scotland.

Frustration and false starts have dogged the famous name's plans to transform the former Goldberg's site in Candleriggs into a £90m luxury shopping haven.

Almost two years ago, Japanese architect Toyo Ito, who had drawn up elaborate and futuristic designs for the landmark site which Selfridges bought in 2002, ceased to be involved in the scheme after Selfridges moved into new ownership and its financial commitment to Glasgow was reviewed.

Glasgow architects Building Design Partnership, responsible for designing additional retail and residential accommodation linked to the proposal, also stepped down.

A spokesman for Selfridges yesterday refused to comment on whether a new architect was in place, with the store sticking to the same statement released more than six months ago that there is no intention to develop the land at present.

High-level city council regeneration officers who remain in talks with Selfridges' board members have been told, however, that a new architect is involved.

Baillie Gordon Matheson, who represents the Merchant City area, said: "They have commissioned a new architect and it is also my understanding that they are continuing to develop links with possible development partners."

Last year, a council report highlighted the vulnerability of smaller businesses in the Merchant City, partly given the low pedestrian footfall away from the "honeypot" of stores on Buchanan Street.

Baillie Matheson said council officers had been pressing Selfridges about the need for some sort of development but were determined to keep negotiations on a positive footing.

"It is a question of judgment. If I was convinced Selfridges was not serious about moving to Merchant City I would call on them to either develop or sell to someone else," he said.

"My judgment, however, at the moment is that the big prize of a Selfridges for Glasgow means that it is still worth being patient for."

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce said it did not believe the gap site was having a negative effect on the area, given recent investments, including an application for a £30m hotel now in the planning process.

Dr Lesley Sawers, chamber chief executive, said: "The area is continuing to grow its reputation as a design-led retail centre and a leisure and tourist destination."

But there is no doubt that he iconic store can have a galvanising effect on the fortunes of a city. In Birmingham, the branch, which opened in 2003, has become one of the city's main visitor attractions.

Last year, Glasgow was named the top place to shop outside London for the third time in a row. Experts predict it will hold the title for the next 10 years.

Reproduced with the permission of The Herald (Glasgow) © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd.