Business leaders in Coventry have welcomed plans for the biggest redevelopment of the city centre since the post-war years.
Coventry City Council has unveiled a £300 million blueprint that will transform the south side of the city centre and will incorporate 443,000 sq ft of new retail space.
Building work on the plans will start during the winter 2015/16 - at least a year later than originally hoped because of the prevailing economic climate.
David Cockroft, the council’s city centre director, said the vision drawn up by new consultant architects, UK-based Benoy, was true to the original design principles of US architects Jerde, who came up with a £1billion design in 2009, which was well received by Coventry people in a public consultation.
Key features will include a newly-built “anchor store” – now proposed as a 120,000sq ft three-storey building in a slightly different location near Bull Yard – including a new car park.
It is hoped it would attract a major new department store, which in turn would help attract more quality retailers as tenants of Coventry city centre.
Coventry Market would have a new glass frontage near to the anchor store.
New pedestrianised walkways around the city centre will be in line with existing street routes, including Queen Victoria Road and Hertford Street.
Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The images really whet the appetite for what the city centre could become.
“At so many events we hold for business, the city centre is held up as needing development and investment.
“I know from meetings that the city council are very keen to press ahead and have been for some time but their hands have been tied by the economic climate.
“What we see before us is a viable plan and is one that has been devised to attract developers and investors wanting to partner in the scheme.
“We all know the capabilities of Coventry city centre. There is massive potential and businesses in the city will certainly want to see this taking shape as soon as possible.”
Jerde’s vision was embraced by then Conservative council leaders as a plan introducing modern features alongside the best of Coventry’s medieval and post-war architectural heritage.
But Martin Yardley, the council’s city development director,said: “One criticism of the Jerde plan was it was a North American model and Anywhereville.”
He said the new plan would be more true to Coventry city centre’s post-war rebuilding created by then city architect Sir Donald Gibson – notably the cross formed by the Lower and Upper Precinct, Market Way and Smithford Way.
Mr Yardley said, given the economic climate in the last three years, no attempt had been made to attract a preferred developer to market the scheme – on land predominantly owned by the city council and Aviva Investors.
He said the new plans presented a “deliverable” scheme which would reduce the risk to a developer and other investors.
Dhiran Vagdia, Coventry branch chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, added: “With all of the other good news stories in Coventry, such as Knuckle, our Local Enterprise Partnership and the Tollbar improvement works, this is more welcome positive news.
“Whilst we want to be comparable to other cities, we also want a city that is far better, and matches our aspirations.
“The sooner we can see this work starting the better for everyone. It will give the city another huge confidence boost.”
The new plan incorporates 443,000sqft of new retail space to provide a mix of retailers, including small independent stores along Hertford Street.
A new hotel/cinema/restaurant and retail complex at Bull Yard would help “drive the night-time activity”.
The narrow “tunnels” linking Broadgate to Hertford Street would be opened up, Coventry Point would be demolished, and Shelton Square would be rebuilt.
Mr Yardley said the eventual rebuilding of the south and north of the city centre could still value more than £1billion.
He said some ideas in the Jerde plan were already underway, with the Olympic improvements, and the £60million “Bishopgate” development in Bishop Street.
Outline planning permission for the new Coventry city centre south scheme is expected by the autumn.
The hope is to attract a preferred developer by early next year.
Mr Cockroft said: “We would like to think we would put spades in the ground by the end of 2015.
“Coventry city centre south would then be completed by mid-2018.”
Coventry City Council’s deputy leader George Duggins, said the new plans would link into the current £7million Public Realm redevelopment in Olympic year, which include a larger pedestrianised square in Broadgate, and improved links to Coventry station.
Mr Yardley said the challenge remained to attract shoppers who were visiting other places like Birmingham and Leamington instead.