Billionaire property mogul John Whittaker landed in Gloucester on Monday to take a look at Gloucester Quays, 25 years in the making by his firm Peel. Reporter Mike Wilkinson looks at his £200million investment plans and what lies ahead in 2014.
With a £250million development already under their belt, doubling that investment might seem like a tall order for the people behind Gloucester Quays.
But when John Whittaker pulled up at the Quays on Monday, all eyes were on the silver-haired property mogul, who is worth £2.4billion and is number 35 on the Sunday Times Rich List. The 71-year-old is chairman of the Peel Group, the Quays’ owners.
There are hopes that he will invest another £200million which would complete the transformation of the historic Gloucester Docks from dereliction to an area filled with opportunities.
After Mr Whittaker left the city, his man on the ground, Jason Pullen, managing director of Peel Outlets, couldn’t be happier about the Quays’ prospects.
He told the Citizen: “The formal opening of Gloucester Quays’ leisure quarter marks a key milestone for the centre as it evolves into a recognised regional outlet destination.
“We have introduced 20 new fashion and leisure brands to the Centre over this past year.
“Retailers, restaurant and leisure occupiers have recognised that we have created a critical brand mass and we expect other brands to join the line-up in 2014. The journey continues.”
Mr Whittaker is regarded as publicity shy and rarely gives interviews but he told guests at the luncheon that he had been impressed with the progress made at the Quays.
Others told how they hoped that it would spur on other developers in the city into action, such as Stanhope plc, who have taken on the Kings Quarter project.
Gloucester’s mayor Chris Chatterton, who went on a tour with Mr Whittaker, said: “He told me he was impressed with how far they had come. He is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and he was really positive about the city.
“He said integrating the new leisure quarter with the rest of the development is now really important.
“He can pick and choose where he developers but he has chosen Gloucester. From my conversations with him it is clear that he has gone plans to develop here further. It is a massive vote of confidence for our future.”
The second phase of development was completed this year with the unveiling of the Cineworld cinema and the new restaurants Zizzi, Chimichanga, Ed’s Easy Diner and Portivo Lounge.
So what lies ahead for 2014 and beyond?
The company is keen to see the remaining empty retail units filled as part of the third phase of development. There is a promise of more retail announcements before Easter.
Filling those could tip the number of businesses at the complex to more than 100.
Looking further down the line, lying next to the new restaurants is a swathe of derelict waterfront warehouses waiting to be developed.
Then there is the Peel Centre, across the road in St Ann’s Way. It has lost its biggest anchor, the old cinema, which is also ripe for development.
The world’s attention will be on Gloucester in 2015 when the Rugby World Cup heads to our city and officials at the Quays will be just as keen as those at the City Council to show off the city in its best possible light.