A multi-million pound programme of investment announced today by Ellandi, the UK’s leading privately-owned shopping centre operator, is set to transform Merry Hill shopping centre near Birmingham into a best-in-class regional retail destination and the most vibrant family lifestyle destination in the West Midlands by July 2025.
Delivered over five years and beginning with a first stage relaunch in September 2021, the £50 million+ investment will mean Merry Hill is the first former intu asset to undergo a major transformation, including a new placemaking masterplan for the 2 million sq ft+ centre and surrounding waterfront and leisure destination. The plans will culminate in Merry Hill setting a new benchmark for how shopping centres can evolve to the changing needs of both occupiers and customers, post-Covid.
The goal of the investment is to build on the best-in-class retail offer provided by occupiers such as Next, JD Sport and Primark; creating a stand-out environment that will secure further leading brands in their flagship formats, and an enhanced leisure offer to provide customers with an exemplary experience unique to Merry Hill. Already, a further 22 units are in negotiation or under offer, totalling over 230,000 sq ft.
Plans include the development of a new family entertainment ‘Leisure District’, allowing visitors of all ages to enjoy a range of non-retail activities and attractions, as well new restaurants.
Existing leisure facilities will undergo substantial upgrades and be better connected to the main mall, while Ellandi’s inclusive estate strategy will continue to build on momentum made in recent years at The Waterfront, which today is home to a variety of independent eateries, shops, the Resonance music academy and community organisation, Black Country Radio and residential units.
The announcement comes as the last main intu sign was removed, with £14 million works to install new decorative interactive panelling outside the centre nearing completion.
Mark Robinson, co-founder of Ellandi, commented: “Despite the pandemic, Merry Hill has seen footfall outperforming city-centre locations and other super-regional shopping centres, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Our plans will ensure that by 2025 Merry Hill will be the West Midland’s most vibrant family lifestyle destination, embedded at the heart of the local community.
“In addition to being able to access a range of both big-name brands and smaller independent business, customers today demand significantly more from shopping centres than they did in years past.
“This investment will not only enhance and complement Merry Hill’s existing retail offering, but also the range of leisure-led, non-retail and food and beverage attractions – delivering a high-quality environment in which shoppers can also spend their days socialising, relaxing and having fun.
“As the lifting of government restrictions affecting non-essential retail and hospitality has revealed, there remains enormous pent-up demand for high-quality, bricks and mortar retail, as evidenced by the 22 deals already completed and the phenomenal interest from new occupiers. However, retail destinations must continue to evolve and keep pace with the rapidly shifting demands of consumers, delivering beautiful, high-quality and diverse locations that offer experiences beyond shopping alone.
“This positive performance and the positive engagement with key stakeholders such as Dudley Metropolitan Council, has given us the confidence to move forward with our plans, building on other investment such as the arrival of the Metro in 2023.”
According to research by retail specialists Javelin Group, retailers at Merry Hill continue to outperform at +34% above chain average – despite the Covid-19 pandemic and numerous lockdowns – while the centre is the strongest scheme in terms of retailers’ sales performance across its catchment area.
Around 126,000 sq ft of new, renewed or pending deals have – or are about to – complete, including Hamleys, Superdry, HMV, Foot Asylum and Bon Pan, while an extensive pipeline of offers by potential new occupiers is also under consideration. The leasing agents appointed for Merry Hill are Time Retail Partners and JLL.
The transformation of Merry Hill will include works to ‘future-proof’ the shopping centre and enhance its sustainability credentials, with an ambitious net-zero goal set for 2030 which will be achieved through, for example, the installation of solar panels and more than 200 electric vehicle charging points.
Signage and wayfinding at the centre will also be drastically improved throughout the 2 million+ sq ft suite, allowing visitors to navigate with greater ease than ever before.
Located in Brierley Hill – just 10 miles west of Birmingham city centre – Merry Hill is the eighth largest shopping centre in the UK with a catchment of around 2.8 million people within a 45-minute drive of the destination. There are more than 10,000 free car parking spaces available for visitors, while the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro Extension will further enhance Merry Hill’s connectivity with the addition of a new station close to The Waterfront. The line is expected to be open to passengers by 2023.
A new centre manager has also been appointed for Merry Hill. Jonathan Poole, formerly centre manager at The Liberty centre in Romford, took up the position this spring, bringing with him more than 20 years’ experience managing some of the UK’s best-known retail destinations.
Jonathan said: “I am delighted to have joined Merry Hill at such an exciting and transformative point in its history, with today’s announcement putting it on track to become the unrivalled shopping and family leisure destination for the West Midlands.
“While I have only been here for a short while, I have been immensely impressed – not only by the fact that many retailers continue to operate at well above average, but also Ellandi’s highly ambitious plans, which will truly take the centre to a new level.
“Kicking off with our first-phase relaunch in September, the programme of improvements, upgrades and attractions will breathe new life into the centre, delivering an unparalleled experience for visitors from all over the West Midlands.
“We know that people love Merry Hill for being home to more than 250 shops, but we also want them to love it is a leisure and lifestyle destination too – and these improvements will deliver just that; a contemporary, attractive environment offering a spectrum of big-name and independent brands, as well as a range of new dining destinations – ensuring that customers will want to return time and again.”
Home to more than 250 retail brands anchored by Marks and Spencer, Primark, Asda, Flannels, Next and H&M, more than 16 million visits were made to Merry Hill in 2020, despite regular lockdowns and social distance restrictions.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, commented: “Merry Hill is one of the UK’s most popular shopping destinations and a real asset to the West Midlands.
“I am absolutely delighted that Ellandi is putting significant investment in to take the shopping centre to the next level. Not only will these fantastic plans help to breathe new life into the centre, but it also represents yet more significant private sector investment in the West Midlands.
“That businesses are still investing here despite the uncertainty the pandemic has caused speaks volumes for how far the West Midlands has come in recent years.
“I wish the team at Merry Hill the very best for the coming months and years, and I absolutely cannot wait to see these ambitious plans come to life.”
Merry Hill also contains one of the UK’s largest Next stores which opened in 2018 and offers one of the brand’s widest ranges of its iconic women’s and menswear, a homeware and furniture department and a mezzanine level-based Costa Coffee. A number of the brands at Merry Hill are significantly investing into store upgrades and upsizing, including Asda, which is investing a further £3 million into store improvements.
Time Retail Partners and JLL have been appointed as joint leasing agents on Merry Hill, to support Ellandi in delivering the enhanced offer across retail, leisure and food & beverage.