Chester's economy and development prospects will slide further backwards if the Business Improvement District vote is a 'No', BID campaigner Tim Kenney told Place's Chester Development Update.
Kenney, a retail letting agent who co-founded his own practice, Kenneymoore, nearly 20 years ago in the city, told delegates at the Place North West breakfast event: "We have looked at tenant demand and they have said, 'We don't want to be in Chester but we'd love to be in Cheshire Oaks'. Chester has dropped down across all the indices. BID has to be a mechanism to stop and arrest the decline in Chester and get everybody working together. What Chester has is the opportunity, character, architecture, the history in the Rows, the river, race course and all those things that other destinations don't have and we should start playing to our strengths."
Local publisher and business network organiser, Paul Daniels, also chairman of the CH1 Chester BID Company, spoke alongside Kenney. Daniels said: "Tesco is willing to commit over £15,000 [in rates to the BID each year]. We've also got commitments from Boots, M&S, Debenhams and Primark who have all said they will pay over £11,000 to effectively generate a BID fund in excess of £500,000 in a year. That fund will also increase with the Yes Vote, because we already have guarantees from businesses from outside the BID area that they will make voluntary contributions. There will be no charge for businesses that have a rateable value of less than £18,000. The bid levy over the five-year term, generates more than £2.5m."
Daniels added: "The challenge for us is the middle ground where the key decision makers are at headquarters in London or overseas. We have the support of the independent retailers and the large companies. We're looking to get 60% support plus which will still be a challenge but we are pretty confident on the support shown so far."
Chester Development Update, held at Riverside Innovation Centre on the University of Chester's city centre campus, was the second in a series of breakfast briefings on priority areas for Cheshire West & Chester Council. Chester Development Update was sponsored by Aaron & Partners, Marketing Projects and Cheshire West & Chester Council.
See links to presentation slides below
The next in the series will be Ellesmere Port Development Update and is due to take place on Tuesday 15 July at PlaceEXPO in No 4 St Paul's Square, Liverpool as part of the International Festival for Business.
Cllr Mike Jones, leader of CWAC, addressed the audience on Chester's development activity and the council's priorities. Jones said: "We've had control now for six years after 20 years of neglect. A few months after we took control Chester City Walls fell down, such was the neglect. We have invested in putting this right and we've invested £4.5m on the Town Hall. We are also investing in the pavements and potholes, both are important.
"Chester Renaissance plays an important part. We bought in Urban Land Institute in 2009 for the One City Plan and since then we have invested £3.5m in Grosvenor Park."
On the new theatre development in the listed Art Deco former Odeon cinema building, Jones said: "We have almost got all the private sector funding we need to compliment the council's £30m investment and other £5m [grants]. It will be a fantastic addition to the area and we hope it will open in September 2016."
Jones went on: "We are getting a lot of investment into the city and have attracted a lot of jobs into the city and of course we have the BID, which is essential. We have to work in partnership, and we need the private sector to take ownership and responsibility of the city and you are well placed to do that as part of your corporate social responsibility. We want you involved and we want to work with you in partnership to really make a difference in the city."
Also speaking at the event was Phil Mayall, development director of Muse Developments. Mayall told delegates the reason for Muse's investment in City Place, the new business district next to the train station, was due to the vision set out in the One City Plan, stewarded by Chester Renaissance.
Mayall added: "The City Plan identified a strong economy on the city's outskirts but that it lacked focus in the city centre, and the plan was about remaking the place."
Muse has planning consent for 10 buildings containing 500,000 sq ft of offices, as well as 200 residential units and extensive parking. The scheme, which runs along the Shropshire Union Canal, has a forecast end value of £120m.
The first office building, of 70,000 sq ft, represents a £6m investment by Muse and funders, Mayall said. The target rent is between £19/sq ft and £21/sq ft, including car parking, which he said was "substantially cheaper than Manchester city centre but in comparable kit."
Mayall continued: "This is not just about investment from the council, it has also been investment from the Evergreen Fund. We have drawn down loan funding from that which is European funds, and ours is the only funding being committed outside of Greater Manchester.
"We have started work on enhancing the gateway and plan prominent changes to the public realm from the railway station into the city. Creating the public realm is important to the focus in the city for all its partners and visitors."
Andy Duxbury, chief executive of event sponsor Aaron & Partners LLP, said: "Aaron & Partners is by far the leading law firm in Chester. We have a strength in Real Estate with 16 lawyers in the department so what's good for Real Estate is good for Aaron & Partners. We've a passion for the city's economic, social and cultural well-being. I feel we are only scratching the surface of the city's potential with the One City Plan. There is a lot still to be done."