Debenhams building bought by University of Gloucestershire
By Rob Freeman | 17th March 2021
The Debenhams building in the heart of Gloucester has been bought by the University of Gloucestershire.
A cornerstone of the city centre and adjoining the King's Quarter development, the building will be transformed into a campus for teaching, learning and community partnerships.
And the university will explore allocating part of the ground floor space for dual-use facilities for the community, offering city-centre access to services such as learning, wellbeing, enterprise and culture for the public.
It hopes phase one of the project could open as early as September 2023 and will publish plans as they evolve.
Vice-Chancellor Stephen Marston said: "The Debenhams building has a special place in the hearts of local people and we're delighted our plans will help breathe new life and purpose into a place that is central to the city's heritage.
"It is part of the university's mission to support the growth and development of our community, economically, socially and culturally.
"By repurposing this iconic building into a new hub for learning, we can make a major contribution to creating a better future for our community."
The university intends to refurbish the 1930s Art Deco building, which offers 20,000sq m across five floors, creating attractive, modern spaces to expand the scale and range of its higher education programmes.
Which courses will be located in the building is to be reviewed with the expanding programmes in nursing and allied health among the options being explored.
"We have ambitious plans for growth in our student numbers and the range of higher education courses we offer," said Mr Marston.
"The restoration of this iconic building will enable us to create the additional space we need for additional students and staff in a location with excellent transport links, new student accommodation, and local services in a phased way, while boosting the city centre economy."
He continued: "We want to explore a range of potential partnerships for accommodating services of value to the public, taking advantage of this prime city centre location to offer local people access to services they value.
"This is all part of the wider ambition, working with partners to bring new life and vibrancy to the high street."
The long-term future of the building, which was owned by Aviva, has been in doubt with Debenhams entering administration for a second time a year ago.
A winding-up process started in December with the retailer continuing to sell remaining stock before closing due to lockdown restrictions.
Online retailer Boohoo bought the Debenhams brand and website in January in a £55million deal, but the buildings were not included.
The city's MP Richard Graham described the deal as an "imaginative use of a grand building".
He said: "This great good news will result in large numbers of University of Gloucestershire students getting vital skills in public sector courses like nursing and allied health courses in our city centre.
"I hope agreements will soon be reached on partnerships, for example in learning and wellbeing on the ground and basement floors, open to all.
"Our city can be confident of both the future for this iconic building and the buzz in our city centre."
Redevelopment of the building will play a key role in the regeneration of the city centre with the neighbouring King's Square, King's Quarter and The Forum digital hub, as well as student accommodation which are being extended at Blackfriars.
Councillor Richard Cook, leader of Gloucester City Council, said: "This is fantastic news which not only guarantees the future of this much-loved building but also sees it become a hive of activity and learning.
"These plans fit perfectly with our multi-million pound regeneration of the King's Square as an events space and The Forum which will attract specialised digital and technology companies creating a thousand new jobs.
"Combined with the transport hub and the refurbishment of the train station that is set to begin this year, our long-standing vision to regenerate and revitalise this part of the city is well on the way to becoming a reality."
The council is working alongside Reef Estates on the King's Quarter development and development director Peter Langley-Smith said be was delighted at the news.
He said: "This sits at the heart of the city, alongside King's Square and The Forum, all of which are being actively invested in by Reef Group and Gloucester City Council to help revive the city centre.
"The vibrant mix of uses being proposed will create exciting opportunities for everyone, and demonstrates the value of all parties working collaboratively to bring about change."
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