MIDDLESBROUGH LEISURE: Hopes to become top destination
CHIEFS have sounded hopes a shopping centre conversion will turn Middlesbrough into the region’s top leisure destination.
A total of £9.1m was set aside to boost plans to bring a cinema, bowling alley and brewery to the publicly-owned Captain Cook Square shopping centre on Tuesday (April 13).
Middlesbrough Council bought the town centre site and the neighbouring House of Fraser building for £8m and £1m respectively last year as part of efforts to secure the future of the town centre.
The aim is to rebalance Captain Cook Square’s 400,000 sq ft of predominantly retail space to a mix of leisure and commercial uses.
Cllr Mieka Smiles told Tuesday’s executive meeting of council leaders it was a “transformational” plan for the town.
“We want to be the leisure hub not just for Teesside, but more widely in the North-east,” she added.
“Something in the report which drew my eye was that we’ve been inundated with interest from regional and national leisure operators which is brilliant – and that’s despite covid as well.
“I’m really excited how this is going to move forward.”
Cash for the Captain Cook project will come from the Government’s “Future High Streets Fund” which saw Middlesbrough granted £14.1m late last year.
Officials say the scheme has already attracted interest from regional and national leisure operators.
Council papers show operator Praxis has been in talks with firms over bringing a bowling alley, a boutique cinema, restaurants and even a “small to medium-scale brewery” to the Captain Cook in future.
The rest of the £14.1m allocation will be spent in the town centre on residential property (£3.5m), transport safety and security efforts (£1.1m), cultural experiences (270k) and covid help for firms (£250k).
A framework for how the money will be spent was eventually agreed by leaders behind closed doors.
Before the closed session, deputy mayor Cllr Antony High said town centres had been suffering for a long time across the UK.
“Even before covid we were seeing the demise of very vibrant town centres,” he added.
“For us to get the opportunity to get access to this level of finance, and bring forward a plan that we’re hoping will drive the leisure industry in Middlesbrough, and bring people into the centre of town, is really positive.
“I’m sure with the right drive we’ll be able to provide something truly amazing for the people of Middlesbrough – that’s the aim.
“It will take time, and there will be processes, but with the right will, and the right people, we will get there in the end.”
Teesside authorities haven’t been shy in buying up shopping centres in recent years.
Neighbouring Stockton Council is using its own FHSF allocation to knock down the Castlegate Shopping Centre and the former Swallow Hotel to make way for a country park and offices.
Ahead of the meeting, Mayor Andy Preston said the future still looked bright for Middlesbrough’s high street.
He added: “The world has changed massively, but we’re changing with it, and the FHSF is the key that will unlock Middlesbrough’s potential for decades to come.
“By building a new urban community in the heart of town, we can boost our population and create an amazing town centre for the 21st century that will bring in visitors and spending.”
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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