Aerial image of the Art Deco Rylands Building, designed by architect Harry Fairhurst in 1932

‘Imaginative’ revamp plotted for Debenhams Manchester

Sarah Townsend

German investor AM Alpha has detailed plans to redevelop the 370,000 sq ft Art Deco building on Market Street into offices and a shopping arcade, described by an advisor as “a total repurposing of a much-loved asset to celebrate its heritage”.

The proposals, designed by Jeffrey Bell Architects, include a four-storey rooftop extension featuring offices and several ‘winter gardens’ where the original skylights used to be, and a central atrium that stretches the entire height of the building.

“This is a wonderful piece of design and AM Alpha and its partners are to be applauded for a bold and imaginative scheme to celebrate the building and make it fit for the 21st century,” Bob Dyson, Manchester property advisor at CBRE, told Place North West. The consultancy has been working with AM Alpha on asset management and design development for more than a year.

AM Alpha, a multi-family office focused on real estate and based in Munich, purchased the Rylands Building – Debenhams’ flagship Manchester store – for £87m in 2017. It aims to redevelop the asset following the troubled retailer’s second administration in as many years, in April.

Shortly after appointing administrators, Debenhams said it had struck a deal with landlords to keep most of its 142 UK stores open, but seven stores closed permanently after the Covid-19 lockdown following others earlier in the year and Debenhams acknowledged that a “handful” more sites could be at risk.

The Market Street Debenhams is one of the stores that has remained open and trading, and it is understood that the redevelopment proposals – for which a planning application has yet to be submitted – have no immediate impact on its staff and operations.

Under the plans, the grade two-listed Rylands Building, designed by architect Harry Fairhurst in 1932, would be redeveloped to provide a new shopping arcade on the ground floor, with the layout returned to its original 1930s configuration by dividing the space into multiple smaller retail units occupied by “artisan” retail and leisure uses.

The basement is planned to house shopping, dining and leisure facilities, accessed via an escalator entrance onto Tib Street. The rest of the building is to become offices, which will bring the vacant fifth, sixth and seventh floors back into use and regenerate the lower floors currently used by Debenhams’ retail offer.

There would be a four-storey rooftop extension for use as further office space, according to the plans set out on a dedicated website. This section would feature several covered winter gardens in place of the original skylights, and a huge central atrium would reach the entire height of the building, “enlivening the space and flooding it with natural light”, Dyson said.

Meanwhile, the reworked ground floor retail is intended to create “the 2020s equivalent of a 1930s shopping arcade”, representing a total repurposing of the space to celebrate its heritage and prepare the building for the changing retail environment. “The project could take two to three years, and the idea is to get it ready for when the economy recovers following the slowdown caused by the pandemic,” Dyson said.

Bob Dyson CBRE

CBRE’s Dyson: “This is a wonderful piece of design”

The Rylands building is let to Debenhams until 2039.

AM Alpha’s managing director Martin Lemke said: “Since we bought the building, we had the vision to transform this landmark into a vibrant, fully occupied building with a long-term future. Now, we have set out our vision in the proposed plans.

“Once plans are approved, we can deliver a [special] office environment at a pivotal gateway location between Manchester’s central core, the Northern Quarter and Piccadilly, which will attract larger independent office occupiers to the city centre, promote job creation and support the post-Covid-19 economic bounceback.”

Debenhams declined to comment. AM Alpha has been contacted for further information on when it intends to submit a planning application to Manchester City Council.

Your Comments

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Sounds great. I’m very glad it’s not being turned into apartments.

By Thumbs Up

This a couple of big questions
– whats happening to Debenhams? would they relocate or close completely?
– How will the four story extension look and would it pass listed building criteria

By Jon P

Nice idea. Looking forward to seeing the plans.. So Debenhams will be going eventually then. Shame

By Steve

I’m glad such a prominent part of the city centre is getting a well deserved make over.

By Anonymous

Looked at their website and it looks good. Something needs to be done with the acres of wasted space in the upper floors of these buildings (inc Primark opposite) and the retaining of the heritage aspects is a bonus. Have they invented anything yet that keeps white buildings white in these northern climes?

By Harpsicord

Nice idea but the 4 storey extension looks awful.

By Observer

Manchester will always land on its feet. They will do anything at any cost to make sure of that.

By L5 alive

Losing the Debenhams format will be no great loss. It’s shabby, cluttered and uncoordinated.
Done well, this will be a great benefit to the City Centre.

By Edge

Sounds lovely, but expensive repurposing to decadent offices and retail… hmmm, lots of demand for that?

By good money after bad

Dyson strikes again

By Anonymous

Plans sound very exciting and a sensible re-use should Debenhams vacate

By James Harper

No loss if Debenhams goes, unfortunately their store here lacks significant investment which it greatly needs! Be good to see such a beautiful building being used for a more relevant use

By P H

If Debenhams goes it just means Manchester retail contracting even more into the god awful Arndale centre. This is not a good thing.

By Retail concern

All you people saying about Debenhams going , what about people who work there, think about other people nog yourselfs , and Debenhams might still carry on .

By Stacey

Anyone else just come on the comments now to see what that one guy from Liverpools rant is today? haha

By Bob

Great work Jeff & Team

By Duncan Hammond

Hope Debenhams still stays it would be missed & also lots of lovely people would lose there jobs .Not good .Surely top part of building could be converted ?

By Anonymous

In response to the comment about peoples jobs being lost at Debenhams; the floor space when converted into an office area on the upper floors will have the capacity to support a significantly higher density of people/jobs than the current sprawling department store. even at the lowest office density assuming people continue in some way to WFH 20% of the time, these occupants will provide the critical mass for the retail offer that is still present at the ground and lower floors. Not to mention the construction jobs that will be created by the construction

By Bradford


We hear you. But most of the large department store companies have been sliding downwards for 10+ years now so it feels inevitable and, while you have a valid point about the human aspect, most people on here comment from purely a development and real estate perspective.

By North by North-West

I feel sorry for the staff but I’m not mourning the loss of Debenhams, they can always relocate and try a different format. They are a retailer, being inflexible and unwilling to change has led to their demise.

By Anon

I like the new interior but the additional floors added on top of the building look awful. It’s a listed building, and we don’t have many of them of this significance in Manchester, so any changes to the external parts of the building should be minimal.

By Johnny

It would be a sad loss if Debenhams goes. Where can I get my Ben Sherman clothes from.

By Darren born bred

I’d like to see Debenhams and HoF relocate to the Arndale

By Dan

@johnny – that’s rubbish! Manchester has hundreds of G2 listed buildings, if this was so special it would have been listed as Grade 2* or Grade 1. What are you specific issues with the proposed extension? It won’t be visible from street level, so I’m not sure what your problem is…

By Ardy