Search is on for new tenant for Blackpool Debenhams store

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Regeneration chiefs say they are actively seeking a new tenant for Blackpool’s Debenhams store – but expect the resort’s branch of the doomed retailer to trade for a while longer once lockdown ends.

The three storey shop opened in 2008 – after a long wait by the town for a new department store – as the anchor for the extended Houndshill Shopping Centre which is now owned by Blackpool Council.

Coun Mark Smith, cabinet member for business, enterprise and job creation, said the council was seeking a ‘quality operator’ to take over the Blackpool store.

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He said as one of the better performing Debenhams in the North West, it was expected to trade into the summer to sell off stock once shops reopen after lockdown.

Blackpool's Debenhams storeBlackpool's Debenhams store
Blackpool's Debenhams store

He said: “We have an active strategy to find a new tenant and our aspiration is for a quality operator which would enhance the Houndshill Shopping Centre.

“Our Debenhams was one of the best performing in the North West so it is likely to be one of the last to close and by then we hope to have some positive news to announce about a new tenant.

“Work is due to begin on the second phase of the Houndshill extension, to bring a cinema, Wilko store and restaurants to the centre, so we feel that will also help us to attract a recognised brand.

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“I certainly don’t want to see a boarded up building in the town centre. The council is a big landlord so we want the town centre to do well.”

Coun Smith was speaking after Conservative councillor Paul Galley raised the issue at a meeting of the full council.

Coun Galley said after the meeting: “Debenhams was the anchor tenant to the Houndshill, so it is crucial that role is filled by something that delivers the same benefits to draw shoppers in.

“That could be another big name in retail, or it could be a big online name looking for a bricks and mortar presence, ie an Apple Store or an Amazon Go, something that connects Blackpool’s hyperfast broadband offer with the social and physical experience benefits of shopping in person.

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“This links in to a wider conversation as regards the high street and ideally we need to see an increase of independent retailers offering unique high quality products and amazing service.

“Unique really sells and arguably one of the reasons for the decline of the high street is that it lost that uniqueness about 30 years ago, and has suffered ever since by being too homogenous and too debt laden.

“One challenge we will face is the high cost of rents and therefore business rates in the town centre, which is unaffordable to most independent start up retailers.

“So as a council we could look at what units we own and offer incentives such as lower rents to encourage start up creative retailers, along with additional business guidance to open stores selling great products and services.”

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It was announced in January that online retailer Boohoo had purchased the ailing Debenhams brand in a deal worth £55m, but which did not include the high street stores.

Many branches have already closed permanently, others will not reopen after lockdown but some are expected to trade for a few months to sell off stock.

The council bought the Houndshill for £47m in November 2019.

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