How critical report sparked action to bring its far pavilions closer to the people

FOR first-time visitors to the city it’s a sight to behold, the magnificent collection of Grade I listed buildings known as the Albert Dock.

The boast is how six million people a year “flock there”, but outside of high days and holidays, or when yet another festival is taking place, the question is how many of them are from, y’know, round here.

For at least a decade now, there’s been something of a disconnect as the city has grown and changed. Back in 1984 when the newly renovated Albert Dock was luring its first tenants with bargain rents, there was no Liverpool One, Ropewalks or Baltic to tug at the wallets of a finite number of citizens looking for retail or restaurant recreation. 

Or, in the words of last year’s hard hitting report, Albert Dock: What Part in Liverpool's Continuing Renaissance? by Liverpool University’s Heseltine Institute: “Back then it was good – avant garde and slightly quirky. But things have moved on.

“Other parts of the city have grown up. The dock has lost its distinctive offer.”

And they weren’t talking about Fred Talbot’s weather map.

All 34 pages of the document, authored by Professor Michael Parkinson CBE and Dr Alex Lord, will not have made comfortable reading for Gower Estates, owners of the Jesse Hartley designed waterfront sprawl which was left abandoned and almost demolished at one point. Nor for Aberdeen Standard Investments who own most of the commercial side.

But they took it on the chin. Change was promised and now it is a-coming - a “repositioning” which will see a “diverse mix of independent and national leisure, retail, restaurant and office tenants” move onto the waterfront.

A very sorry looking Albert Dock in the 1970s

With one of two Costa Coffees already gone (the one on The Colonnades), Waterloo-based Pea Berry Coffee House is on the way in.

On the grapevine there are rumblings of one or two star signings to follow later in the year but in the meantime, Aberdeen has announced details of five new tenants. 

On a 15-year lease, the first Rosa’s Thai Cafe outside of London will set out its considerable stall in the Britannia Pavillion. The restaurant will be spread over two floors, retaining original features in combination with an open theatre kitchen.

Meanwhile, Peter and Elaine Kinsella will open Lunyalita, a new-concept, pared-down version of their award-winning Spanish restaurant and deli, Lunya.

If, after that, you fancy a good hiding, head next door to another Liverpool-based independent, the Leather Satchel Co, which will be expanding into something called Hanshaw’s Leather Workshop - providing bespoke leather craft workshops.

From Waterloo to waterfront: Pea Berry Coffee House

Fans of interactive, real-life games will, they hope, be lured by Escape Hunt, similar in vein to the 1990s TV show The Crystal Maze. It will move into former office suites on the mezzanine level of Atlantic Pavilion, on a 10-year lease. 

Made in Liverpool TV relocates its office to The Colonnades and for those wanting a desk, rather than dinner, some vacant office suites are being done up in a bid to bring in a diverse range of occupiers including start-ups seeking more flexible terms.

Quite whether it will be enough to bring the waterfront's far pavillions back within the willing reach of the people remains to be seen, but there does seem to be an energy and, at least, an understanding of what needs to happen.

Peter Kinsella (left) and wife Elaine will open Lunyalita in Albert Dock later this year

Chris Wright, portfolio manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “Albert Dock is a world-class tourist attraction bringing a significant amount of footfall to our tenants, however, we are striving to create a year-round destination within the city that locals visit regularly and feel compelled to return to.

“We are currently working hard for 2018 to be the first realisation of our plans to reinvent the offer at Albert Dock, and we are proud to welcome all of these operators to kick-start this and breathe new life into the scheme.

“Signings such as these, along with those we are currently progressing with in legals give us confidence that our strategy is going in the right direction and represents an endorsement to creating a destination of choice within the city.”

Further reading: Heseltine Report Albert Dock.