The council has purchased the 70,000 sq ft retail building for £2m, to help facilitate the next part of its regeneration of the town centre.
The two-storey 1930s property on Grange Road in Birkenhead was bought by overseas investor Autumn Properties in 2014 for £5m. It has housed department store House of Fraser, which went into administration in 2019, for the past few decades.
Although many of House of Fraser’s UK stores were saved when Sports Direct chief Mike Ashley acquired the struggling retailer later that year, the Birkenhead outlet was one of the stores earmarked for closure. The building has lain vacant since last March.
Through the Wirral Growth Company, a 50:50 joint venture with Muse Developments, Wirral Council is leading a £1bn regeneration of Birkenhead town centre, which gathered momentum towards the end of last year with news of the planned demolition of part of the Milton Pavements shopping centre to bring forward 150,000 sq ft of offices.
Meanwhile, Wirral Council learned at the end of last year it will receive £24.6m from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund to help it progress the plans.
The council said in a statement that the purchase of the House of Fraser building “adds a further tangible commitment to the realisation of our ambitions, coupled with the significant news that the borough was successful in its bid to secure Future High Streets Fund money.”
The statement added: “The purchase will not only facilitate the future advancement of the town centre but ensure this sizeable and well-known building will not remain empty in the long-term or be left open to third-party development that could add little or no value to the community.”
As well as the office complex and new central business district, Birkenhead’s regeneration will see the creation of a replacement market and food and drinks offer for the town, as well as extensive communal green space and other uses.
The House of Fraser property is located at the entrance to the proposed central business district, close to the redevelopment of Milton Pavements and a potential residential build in the nearby Hind Street area.
Cllr Janette Williamson, leader of Wirral Council, said: “We have been able to purchase the former House of Fraser building at a significantly reduced cost at a time when we are making serious progress with our plans to regenerate Birkenhead.
“Having control over the future of this building, sitting in a strategic position at the gateway to the town centre, combined with our existing portfolio, will mean we are able to move forward with our proposals, without any unforeseen difficulties presenting limitations to what we can do.
“It gives us options with the landscape and will afford us the opportunity to be both creative and sustainable in our developments.”
The council said it would aim to present more detailed plans for the House of Fraser building in early spring. Wirral’s director of asset management and investment advised on the deal and no external agent was used.