A 'ghost town' by day... just what has happened to the Albert Dock?
IT was the jewel in the crown of the ‘80s regeneration of Liverpool, but a daytime stroll around Albert Dock now paints a different story. Paddy Shennan asks what the future holds for the city’s premier attraction.
By Paddy Shennan, Liverpool Echo
IT’S certainly glamorous by night, but parts of it can seem ghostly during the day.
This was no walk on the wild side, this was a walk on the quiet side – a walk around the Albert Dock.
This famous landmark may be a mecca for bar and restaurant-goers by night and a magnet for tourists thanks to attractions such as The Beatles Story, Merseyside Maritime Museum and Tate Liverpool – but what about the shoppers?
I walked around the dock on Monday and Thursday lunchtimes last week and it was generally quiet – very quiet – on both days.
There were little areas of activity and pockets of people, such as along the Colonnades – even on Monday, when the Tate was closed.
But elsewhere, notably on the Britannia Pavilion side of the dock where there is so much empty space, it was deserted.
Which, to be honest, was quite shocking. And sad. And depressing.
As is the list of retail departures from the dock in the last year or so. First it was interiors shop Ocean, which blamed city centre roadworks for a loss of trade, then the Edinburgh Woollen Mills which, after almost two decades, said it was leaving because the dock had moved too far into the leisure market.
Then fashion store Moose relocated to city centre Button Street, while upmarket furniture outlet, The Room Store, closed its dock showroom to concentrate on its website business and developing contract work.
Wandering around the dock, it’s impossible to miss the bars and restaurants. There’s the Pumphouse, Est Est Est, Babycream, Ha! Ha! Bar and Canteen, Spice Lounge and the Pan American Club.
But the Albert Dock Company will point out that the complex is also home to the less sexy-sounding Phoenix Life Group, Telewest Broadband and a host of smaller offices.
And opposite the new Kings Dock arena, the mixed use theme continues with XL Clothing, the Yellow Duckmarine office, the Premier Travel Inn, The Beatles Story and Absolution Gyms.
But there’s also no avoiding the extremely quiet areas of the dock, along the Britannia Pavilion quayside.
There is a large empty space, complete with To Let sign, before you get to the Impressions of Liverpool and the Nauticalia shops.
Then there’s another void and another To Let sign, before you get to the Pan Am – and then yet more empty space.
As I walked along the pavilion yesterday with Ian Brown, director of the Albert Dock Company, he revealed that there was serious interest in the various units – from a restaurant, a speciality bar, a coffee chain and another bar.
Britannia Pavilion, therefore, looks like becoming bar and restaurant central – in contrast to the Colonnades, the home of Tate Liverpool.
The Colonnades are virtually full of shops and cafes, including, among others, the florist’s Tamzyn Angela, Annabel’s Accessories, Lavazza Cafe Bar, the Gift Company, La Crepe Rit cafe – and, of course, Tate Liverpool and the Tate Cafe.
The Colonnades also boast their share of flats and offices – often overlooked, says Ian Brown, because people only tend to see what is at ground level.
Round the corner, and back towards where we started, you’ll see the Merseyside Maritime Museum – another reason why the Albert Dock is the region’s number one tourist attraction, with between 15 and 20 per cent of visitors to Merseyside heading this way.
The Albert Dock is undoubtedly a mixed use complex and it appears that it will remain one.
But while it is unlikely that there will be a mass exodus of retailers – especially those smaller businesses related to leisure and tourism – it also seems certain that more restaurants and bars are heading to the Britannia Pavilion.
And that, stresses Ian Brown, will be due to the demands of the market – not the rental demands. He says: “The rents down here are very, very low compared to – literally – just over the road.
“People cite high rents and car parking charges as reasons for the failure of some retailers. But that comes from members of the public, not the retailers, and it’s a myth.”
WHAT are your views on the Albert Dock – and its future?
'Future is bright for us'
THE Albert Dock is in transition.
It’s evolving to meet the changing needs of its customers. And the future couldn’t look much brighter.
That is the basic message from Ian Brown, director of the Albert Dock Company since November 2004, who stresses that of the dock’s 1.25m square feet, only 30,000 square feet (or 2.4%) of space is empty.
Of the retail versus leisure debate, he says: “Latterly, there has been more of a shift towards leisure and tourism but that’s not to say we are going to completely move away from retail.
“The Colonnades will certainly, for the foreseeable future, remain as retail. There is an element of retailing along the Britannia Pavilion but the market place is telling us now there is more of a demand for leisure and tourism.
“We will never please all the people all the time. But the Albert Dock will be at the epicentre of all the developments currently taking place in Liverpool.
“With 2008, the new arena and the Liverpool 1 shopping development all on the horizon, more visitors are likely to visit the dock than ever before.
“Part of our focus is about getting a strong, highly appealing product in place. This includes picking the right tenants and developing entertaining events throughout the year. We're also working with a number of arts organisations, including the Liverpool Biennial, to stage exhibitions in some of the units whilst we’re changing over tenants.
“Historically, the dock has always been a good example of a mixed use regeneration scheme. Souvenir shops sit alongside busy hotels and restaurants.
“Five million people visit the dock every year to see The Beatles Story, Merseyside Maritime Museum and Tate Liverpool and the dock has also become a successful eating and drinking destination.
“The dock will complement surrounding developments by offering a unique, relaxing environment in which to enjoy a host of leisure activities.
“From 2007 onwards, we’ll have a lot to shout about and we'll be shouting very loudly to ensure that the Albert Dock is seen as the well-loved tourist attraction it is.”