The Cumbria college is in final-stage negotiations to open a town centre campus on the first and second floors of the 100,000 sq ft Westmorland Shopping Centre, owned by Praxis Real Estate Management.
The 58,000 sq ft facility would eventually house up to 400 students and would feature a lecture theatre, science labs, IT and media spaces, and conference room.
The upper floors consist of largely vacant retail space. Under Kendal College’s plans, retail will be consolidated on the lower floor of the three-level shopping centre.
A planning application to change the use of the space from retail to education has been submitted to South Lakeland Council. Lambert Smith Hampton is the planning consultant.
“In recent years the shopping centre has suffered a chronic decline in footfall,” a planning statement by LSH said.
Currys, Evans, Argos and HMV are among the retailers to have exited Westmorland Shopping Centre in recent years.
“This decline in anchor tenants is partly related to the opening of the [nearby] South Lakes Retail Park,” LSH added.
While retail has declined, Kendal College’s student numbers have grown over recent years, and campuses at Milnthorpe Road and Beezon Road are at capacity, the college said.
Kelvin Nash, Kendal College principal, said: “Due to our increased student numbers and the need for additional space, we have been looking at various options for a third college campus for more than a year.
“The college’s use of the Westmorland Shopping Centre as a third campus would cement its place in the heart of the town and its community, contributing much to the social and economic development of Kendal and surrounding areas.”
Some classes could be delivered from the shopping centre campus as early as September.
By the end of 2022, the college expects to have full occupation as a standalone campus.
Ilan Goldman, senior asset manager at Praxis Real Estate, said: “The commitment from Kendal College and South Lakeland District Council to transforming and rejuvenating their town centre is commendable.
The student and staff population that would be housed at The Westmorland Centre are exactly the tonic the cafés, restaurants and shops of Kendal are looking for as we emerge from Covid.”
Praxis acquired the shopping centre from BDO in 2017 for £7.1m.
At that time Gary Roberts, managing director of Praxis, defended the future of physical retail stores in the face of the rise of e-commerce.
“The populist view that the exponential rise of e-commerce will eliminate the need for the physical store is fundamentally flawed,” he said.
At Liverpool’s Metquarter, asset manager Queensbury let 50,000 sq ft to media and performing arts university LMA last year in a similar deal.