Debenhams in Stratford will likely close in 2021 as plans to potentially replace it with a new 80-bedroom hotel and retail units were revealed earlier this month.
The retail chain confirmed the store’s anticipated closure to the Herald as Blue Coast Capital, the building’s owners and developers of Bell Court, unveiled their vision for the site.
The probable closure will come as a shock to shoppers in Stratford, with the building, which has entrances on High Street and Wood Street, long used as a department store.
In its place Blue Coast want to retain retail units on the existing High Street and Wood Street frontages, while the new hotel would sit above.
The hotel entrance would be located within Taskers Way in Bell Court alongside further retail units.
It is also anticipated that 11 new residential units would be incorporated into the development.
A spokesperson for Debenhams said: “Following the decision of the landlord to redevelop the site, our store is likely to close in 2021.
“We are keeping our colleagues and customers informed and thank them for continuing to bear with us. We had hoped to keep the store open for longer but the landlord has decided to use the space for other purposes.”
For their part, Blue Coast Capital say their plans have been prompted by uncertainty over the future of Debenhams and the potential impact this could have on Bell Court.
John Stacey, UK Real Estate Director for Blue Coast Capital, stressed that it was not the developer pushing Debenhams out of Bell Court, rather that the hotel and retail plan has been developed as a contingency option, should the department store leave.
Mr Stacey said: “We did have the option of terminating Debenhams’ lease immediately but we chose not to do that, we engaged with them and talked about different options, we’ve been very open with them. This is a hypothetical scheme, which we believe will be successful should we be faced with the situation where that unit becomes vacant, given the situation Debenhams are currently in, it would be negligent for us not to do this, I don’t want us to end up in a situation in 2 or 5 years when we have a large empty unit, like what has happened with BHS.
“There are other hotel schemes proposed in Stratford, but I think ours has a number of benefits, it’s in a central location, we have our own parking and we’ve got a number of different food options on our doorstep. We don’t have an operator in mind yet.
“I’m relaxed about filling the retail units on High Street and Wood Street, these streets traditionally have a high occupancy rate.”
Explaining why the Debenhams unit could not simply be retained as a department store Mr Stacey said: “There are very few businesses that operate under that department store model now and not many are looking for new premises.”
Debenhams as a company has been going through a rocky period over recent months, announcing in April 22 stores across the country it planned to close.
At the time, Stratford was not among those on the list.
The company fell into administration earlier this year, but entered a company voluntary agreement with its creditors, allowing it to negotiate reduced rents and restructure.
The Grade II building has a long history as a department store and was home to J C Smith before Debenhams.
While many in Stratford would fear such a large unit being left vacant, the prospect of a new large hotel may not be universally popular.
Earlier this summer the Herald revealed that the owners of the former BHS building were planning to submit a planning application to develop the site into a 170 bed hotel, while an 81-bedroom hotel on the site of Stratford’s PictureHouse cinema, gained planning permission in March.
Coupled with other hotel additions to the town over recent times such as Hotel Du Vin on Rother Street and the redevelopment of the Falcon into Hotel Indigo, there may be concerns that Stratford now has more than enough.
Joe Baconnet, director of Stratforward BID, said: “I think it’s only sensible that Blue Coast are making contingency plans, we don’t want another BHS situation in the heart of Stratford.
“I don’t think they would have any issues with the retail element of the proposal, I think there would be a number of national operators interested if those units became available.
“I am less confident about the hotel aspect of the plan and I think there would be others on the Stratforward board who would be cautious about it. We’ve seen that hotel plans are coming forward for BHS and there is planning permission for a hotel in the PictureHouse site. Hotel occupancy rates are quite high in Stratford, but I think as more rooms become available, this may have an impact on the cost and lead to reduced prices.
“I think the department store model has struggled in regional centres, but on the other hand Marks and Spencer in Stratford have just increased their hours, they’re showing growth.”
As part of their consultation on the proposal Blue Coast Capital will be displaying their plans within a unit in Bell Court on Taskers Way opposite Debenhams from today.
They can also be viewed on the Bell Court website at www.bellcourtstratford.com where comments can also be left.
Following the consultation, Blue Coast Capital hopes to submit a planning application to Stratford-on-Avon District Council in October.