Architects offer tantalising glimpse of the future for Gloucester’s Debenhams building

Two potential redesigns of Gloucester’s Debenhams building have been presented by the architects involved in designing the city’s £100 million-plus King’s Quarter. The concepts are ‘viable and realistic’ and really quite impressive.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published

A firm of architects involved in the design of Gloucester’s £100 million-plus King’s Quarter has said it is ‘quietly confident’ the landmark former Debenhams building will be redeveloped.

Quays-based Quattro Design Architects had put together two potential redevelopment proposals ahead of the nationwide closure of the high street chain, which left the department store off the city’s Northgate Street empty.

Quattro, which is working with Reef Group on delivering the first two phases for the redevelopment of the adjacent King’s Quarter, said it believed its concepts remained viable and realistic, and that the building’s redevelopment in the near future was a very real prospect.

‘Obviously for all the staff at Debenhams this has not been good news. But the building itself has so much potential,’ said Jonathan White, a senior associate at the firm.

Earlier this month (February 2021), SoGlos reported how it understood an offer was already on the table for Gloucester’s former Debenhams site, although nothing was confirmed on the record.

With permission now granted and the £107 million budget signed off for Reef Group’s plans to turn King’s Quarter into The Forum, Gloucester is being seen as a place where big developments can happen, according to Quattro.

Robert Walder, commercial director at Quattro, who has just seen the firm’s re-design of the city’s Shire Hall win a national award for excellence, said: ‘We are very, very proud of what is happening in the city.

‘Regeneration is creating a buzz – there is so much inspiring development in and around the city. It is sending out a positive message. Gloucester is a great place to live and work.

‘When people see things happening and a council that is pro-active – it attracts more investment – and that is what is happening here.’

Nigel Eckersall, a senior architect for the firm and who brings international experience to the Quattro team’s eclectic skillset, said: ‘There is a lot of chatter by people who want to come to the city. That will bring jobs and employment.’

Gloucestershire’s commitment to zero-carbon targets and the onset of the electric revolution – from scooters to all modes of transport – has been driving a sea-change in how people see the potential of city-living.

‘We are seeing people who initially wanted greenfield sites and who now see the value in city centre developments again. These conversations are already taking place here,’ said Mr Eckersall.

All of which, affirmed Quattro, stacks the decks strongly in favour of a re-invention of the empty spaces above shops into living space as less retail footprint is required.

Which brings us back to Debenhams.

‘We have two concepts for Debenhams. One sees the ground floor as retail and food and beverage with the upper floors as studios and space for businesses broken up by smaller units.

‘There are all sorts of things we can do with the upper floors,’ said Mr White.

“Option two would be a similar idea on the ground floor, with retirement living above.”

Both ideas fit well with The Forum scheme however, the firm said if tasked with the delivery of this project, it might well redevelop the concepts. But how realistic is it to suggest any such project will go ahead?

‘We are quietly confident someone will step forward to develop it,’ said Mr Walder.

Which makes you wonder if they know something we don’t?

By Andrew Merrell

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