Thousands of shoppers today sampled their first taste of Liverpool One as Grosvenor's £1bn regeneration scheme opened its doors.
The official opening of the first phase at 10am was marked with formal speeches followed by several dance acts on stage, drawing crowds to the junction of South John Street and Lord Street by the new Debenhams.
Grosvenor bosses seemed pleasantly surprised at the strong turnout but were well favoured by the weather and school half-term holidays, as well as interest generated in recent days by local media.
Deals with four retailers – three new to the city – were announced on the day: fashion store Cult, has taken 12,000 sq ft on Paradise Street; Bank will take 4,712 sq ft on the upper level of South John Street; Henleys 3,079 sq ft on the lower level and Adidas, with its second store in Liverpool, 3,960 sq ft on the lower level.
Mark Preston, chief executive officer of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, said: "Today, we begin the process of giving back to Liverpool an important part of its city centre. Today also marks the start of making the city what it once was – one of the UK's top five retail destinations."
Today, 38 shops began trading out of 80 units in the first phase, which is 90% let; 60 are signed and 10 in solicitor's hands. More stores will open in the coming weeks. The scheme will contain 1.6m sq ft of retail overall when the second phase opens in September and is 80% let in total. In addition, today saw the opening of the 2,000-space car park off The Strand under the new Chavasse Park and another 500 spaces on Hanover Street. Two hotels and 600 apartments complete in early 2009.
Among the retailers to pull out the stops to open today were Zara Home and Pull & Bear, firsts in the UK, a new format Liverpool FC store by George Davies, and anchor department stores John Lewis and Debenhams.
Jenefer Greenwood, retail director of Grosvenor, said 50% of the stores in Liverpool One would be new names to the city, far more than perceived by rival agents critical of the scheme.
Shoppers seemed more excited initially at walking the circuit around Paradise Street and South John Street to view the new landscape than in venturing inside stores.
Ongoing entertainment throughout the day will include fashion shows and numerous street artists from stilt walkers to break-dancers.
Preston added that interest in letting the remaining units was strong. He added: "Despite the really gloomy economic news around we have got a remarkably high level of interest."
Meanwhile, it emerged that the deal to sign Tesco to a 50,000 sq ft supermarket below a multi-storey car park on Hanover Street is in solicitor's hands and will be announced in the coming weeks.
However, a deal to bring Habitat back to Liverpool is less likely now to happen after the furniture retailer decided it had enough exposure to the North West. It trades in Wythenshawe, Trafford Centre, Manchester and Chester.
Letting agents are Cushman & Wakefield, Strutt & Parker and Tushingham Moore.