A LARGE empty building in York could be transformed into an arcade of small shops as part of a vision to revitalise the high street.
A vacant city centre property has been identified, with potential to be divided into about 20 units, in a bid to boost York as it emerges from the latest of three lockdowns.
A community interest company, York Retail Forward, is being set up to drive the project.
Its founding directors – Phil Pinder and Judy Illing, chair and secretary of York Retail Forum, and Sarah Czarnecki, strategic partner at Grays Court Hotel – registered the not-for-profit organisation with Companies House this week.
Sarah Czarnecki, strategic partner at Grays Court Hotel, registering York Retail Forward with Companies House.
It has the support of City of York Council and York BID, which is supplying a small fund to get it started, along with Make It York.
The money will be used to purchase a ‘requirements list’ detailing what companies want in their search for premises, such as size, location, proximity to parking, and style of building.
The venture follows York Retail Forum’s efforts to encourage new businesses to the city, including its offer of mentoring support to newcomers and start-ups.
“This has taken it to the next level,” said Phil, forum chair.
He said York Retail Forward had partnered with a ‘place maker’ to help identity businesses which want, or could be tempted, to invest in York and help landlords find tenants.
“We are going to bring all the shops that are available together in a single list. We will pair that up with the companies looking at York and their requirements.
“There are over 100 companies we have picked out. About 30 to 40 definitely want to come to York and the rest want to come to the region. We will try and sell the city to them.
“This new body can apply for funding to invest in our high street and move forward.”
Phil said they were looking for other people to be involved. “We are trying to move fast.
“Our long-term plan is to take over an empty redundant shop in York and repurpose it and create a mini arcade to create what’s more in demand – smaller footprint shops. We are thinking of about 20 businesses in the property of 150 to 200 sq ft each with their own lock and key.”
These would be for anyone with a good business plan who wants to come to York, he said.
Phil said the aim was to tackle the issue of high business rates which can make city centre sites less appealing.
Splitting a large building into individual units would help small businesses, which benefit from differing degrees of rates relief depending on their rateable values, to be in the city centre.
Phil said: “In the arcade, each business has a lock and key to their entrance so they end up with their own rateable value for each property inside.
“It’s a new way of thinking but if you do it right it will prove to the landlords of York that you can break up big shops into smaller units.
“Hopefully, the dearest shop will only be paying about £1,000 in business rates a year.
“We are hopefully going to do this as a test bed, if we get the right property. We’d look to do a second one later, and any extra space we have would be put to use as well, such as using upstairs space for hot desking or mini offices.
“We’ll present a larger case to our partners next month to build the project and create the space.”