Cabot Circus puts us up where we belong
Thousands of people were given finally their first glimpse of the new look Bristol city centre yesterday as Cabot Circus opened its doors for business bang on time and with none of the predicted problems.
A decade after the idea was first aired, the dream became a reality with a promise the £500 million development will put Bristol back where it belongs in the top division of UK cities.
Those who masterminded the scheme declared themselves delighted their vision has been so thrillingly realised after so many years of planning, negotiations and construction.
Fears the mammoth enterprise would never be ready in time failed to materialise yesterday and as the punters flocked into the new shopping centre, there was an air of quiet pride at a job well done.
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Even Bristol's notorious traffic could not spoil a day of congratulations and celebration, and the chaos many had been forecasting did not happen.
The plan was always to join the new roads, buildings and shops seamlessly to the existing centre and it appears to have worked.
The long-derided Broadmead has also undergone a facelift and, on first impressions, 18 months of building work and disruption seems to have paid off.
What once was a car park overlooked by the blank rear walls of Broadmead's shops has been magically transformed into a handsome piazza complete with designer boutiques, swanky shops and what many believe will be one of the city's finest restaurant in the shape of Brasserie Blanc. No longer a sad forgotten corner of the city, Quakers Friars has become the connection between the old and the new.
And the ugly grey bank of shops that greeted people at the foot of the M32 has been replaced by a swanky cinema and the new House of Fraser department store.
B ob de Barr, boss of the massive project, was clearly a very happy man yesterday. The project director from the Bristol Alliance said: "The city has been crying out for something like Cabot Circus for as long as anyone can remember and this will propel Bristol into the retail Top 10.
"There are a lot of people who haven't shopped here for years and we want to rectify that. We want to bring people back into the city. We are offering something for everyone and for all sections of the community.
"In one day, we have brought more than 70 new shops and leading brands to the city along with a new cinema, restaurants, cafes and bars. This is a unique project in so many ways and we are setting the agenda. We are creating benchmarks in terms of sustainability, design and construction.
"The fact 75 retailers have come to Bristol for the first time to be part of Cabot Circus speaks for itself. The demand from retailers has been huge and we are at more than 90 per cent capacity."
Shoppers defied the credit crunch by spending thousands in a matter of hours at a new branch of upmarket store Harvey Nichols today. The store sold a £3,000 Zagliani bag within hours of opening. It also took a whole day's takings in just two hours including a RM dress costing £1,200. The store's Aveda spa is booked until Christmas and the restaurant has 450 bookings.
Mr de Barr believes the store could prove to be a decisive factor. He said: "They know they will be attracting people from Truro to Haverford West. With all that we will be putting Bristol back as a regional shopping destination. This is one of the most prosperous parts of the country and people should be coming to Bristol to shop rather than heading off to London."
Helen Holland, leader of Bristol City Council, said: "This is nothing short of a quantum leap forward for Bristol. There is no doubt that we are going to be where we rightfully belong in the top 10 of cities."
The opening of the centre will have major implications for the economy of Bristol according to the South West Regional Development Agency.
Ian Knight, area director, said: "Bristol is the eighth largest city in England yet it does not rank in the top 20 retail shopping locations – until now. The city's quality of life is well documented and it is excellent at attracting and retaining major employers.
"But the absence of a major city centre shopping destination has held Bristol back. Cabot Circus is vital to closing this gap and will put Bristol firmly on the retail map."