A leading business organisation has pledged to introduce “cafe culture” as part of a radical reinvention of Aberdeen city centre.
The organisation has pledged to invest up to £15 million towards revamping the city centre.
Central to Aberdeen Inspired’s plans is the introduction of “cafe culture” in the city, characterised by outdoor hospitality.
Adrian Watson, the organisation’s chief executive, said the Spaces for People interventions designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are a good starting point – and wants Aberdeen to look to Scandinavia for inspiration.
Mr Watson aims to introduce a more permanent culture of outdoor hospitality in order to encourage more people into the city centre.
“Last year we supported Spaces for People, and that allowed some of our businesses to spill onto the street,” he said.
“It’s very temporary but we feel there’s an appetite there, even from the sceptics.
“They manage to do it just fine in Scandinavia and other places. If there’s a business argument, and we think there is a strong one, it can establish itself.
“Cafe culture is a key priority for us. That’s not just about alcohol, it’s about selling tea and coffee throughout the day. We think if we can free up a bit more space that will allow us to establish that culture the city has aspired to.
“We saw the makings of it over the last year and it’s something we can build on by introducing more permanent structures and making it more aesthetically pleasing.
“That would allow many more businesses to trade like that.
“We feel the public are right behind it.”
He added: “It’s not just us saying it. There are many people who have been to Scandinavia to see it, and there are other places even further north than that where they have it too. Just about any self-respecting city looks towards cafe culture, so why should Aberdeen be any different?
“We need to move forward on all fronts and have that conversation. It’s something we can build on post-Covid and give a greater degree of permanence.
“You could then have a day-time economy and a night-time economy. We could keep people in the city centre to enjoy the cultural experiences.
“Some of the detail still needs to be ironed out. Everyone has a perception of what things will look like when we see pedestrian areas.
“The Broad Street model seems to work but there will be various permutations on the table about what Union Street could look like.
“The city centre does need more pedestrian-friendly areas. I think everyone agrees on that. That would allow cafe culture to establish itself.”
Aberdeen Inspired will raise more than £7 million in levies over the next five years if it is retained, but the organisation plans to double that from other funding streams such as sponsorship and grants.
Its business plan includes the delivery of “world-class” events on top of the hugely-successful Nuart street art festival, while there would also be a focus on the recovery of businesses from Covid-19.
The organisation also plans to introduce a “renewed focus on cleanliness” by deep-cleaning streets on a regular basis, with a greater focus on hygiene following the pandemic, while floral displays and parklets would be placed in the city centre.
Also key to the city’s recovery, according to Mr Watson, will be the return of workers to their city-centre offices.
However, Aberdeen Inspired claim providing an incentive for people to stay in the centre is vital.
“There are a lot of people out there who are looking forward to that experience of coming into the city centre and making use of the shops and hospitality, and just getting back into the routine of life,” Mr Watson said.
“The office sector is a huge part of that, and one of my concerns is that captive audience has been gone for the past year. We want to see them coming back.
“I am seeing a change in view. At the outset of Covid, it was all about working from home and how we were unlikely to go back to the office environment.
“Now though I am seeing a shift in that thinking. People need socialisation and the organisation needs to grow, and you need to do that as a team. The city centre offers a sense of community.
“I hope the office sector will come back in time, and hopefully those decisions are made at the executive level that will allow companies to come in and take up some of the additional space.”