Energy giant Shell’s planned return to Aberdeen city centre is already causing others to fancy a spot on the famous Granite Mile, council chiefs claim.
Long-empty Union Street premises around the Silver Fin are being eyed up by businesses understood to be keen to capitalise on the hundreds of workers to be based there.
The Anglo-Dutch firm will next year return to the city’s main street after nearly 50 years at its North Sea HQ in Tullos.
More than 1,000 staff will use the new base, next door to The Capitol, though not all at the same time as a result of flexible working schedules.
And, “literally the day after” the deal was announced, council officials were being questioned about the availability of nearby properties.
Boulton: ‘The days of mile-long shopping street are gone’
Councillor Marie Boulton, leading work on a £150 million refresh of the city centre masterplan, said: “These units adjacent to the Silver Fin have been empty for years.
“We recognise that in the past Union Street was well-known for being the mile-long shopping street – but we all know that, sadly, those days are gone.
“But the more suits we can get on the street, the better for hospitality and retail – for the cafes, bakers and sandwich shops and for people nipping to the shops on their lunch breaks.
“It is really important to us to encourage as many businesses back into Union Street as possible and with them, white collar workers.”
Described as the biggest commercial property deal outside of London so far this year, Shell’s return was announced with much fanfare – a boon for those working to bring life back to Union Street.
Mrs Boulton said the energy firm’s return would aid plans to “sectorise” the city’s main thoroughfare.
City planners are currently looking to encourage different types of businesses to take up premises in different parts of Union Street – with a mix of uses thought essential in attracting footfall back to the area.
It would come alongside efforts to encourage builders to reclaim the upper floors of properties for flats – backed by a waiver on the expected affordable housing commitments from developers.
Pedestrianisation of the Market Street to Bridge Street stretch is already under consideration as part of this work, to establish a better flow of a retail district from Union Square up to the Bon Accord Centre.
Property firm FG Burnett last month found there were 47 vacant shop units along the Granite Mile as part of a market survey.
Shell’s Silver Fin base could bring about ‘sectorised’ Union Street
Mrs Boulton added: “There is a concentration of offices up at the top end of Union Street and we have another two office blocks down at Marischal Square.
“I think that will be what starts to create that almost ‘in the city’ vibe at the top end, which will support the different hospitality sectors.
“We do not have as much as of that people staying in the city centre after work because we haven’t had that concentration of offices – 5.30pm has come and people have gone home.
“So we would like to create that vibe, found in other major cities, so people stay in the centre and might go for something to eat, then see a show or to the cinema.”
She hopes cafes, restaurants and bars would benefit from the ‘business end’ of the Granite Mile, with young professionals from The Capitol, Silver Fin and IQ building in Justice Mill Lane expected to pop out for lunch, dine with clients and remain in the city centre after hours – especially if they can be drawn to make it their home too.
“It is all about extending dwell time, to allow people to feel that it is not about either working or shopping – it is about a mixed experience,” Mrs Boulton, the lead political figure overseeing the masterplan, added.
“The idea of splitting Union Street into sectors would not be about putting a specific ‘you can’t move out of your area’ message to businesses.
“This is about saying which buildings support which use, and as we move forward, trying to make buildings that can be adapted as they fall out of use.
“They could be used for something else, they are not quite as specific.”