Cheltenham Borough Council has bought three High Street premises for £3.3 million and spent another £2.5 to rescue to stalled Minster Exchange (MX) project as it seeks to ensure the continued regeneration of the town centre.
The three buildings include the former Poundland building at 232 to 242 High Street as well as 254 High Street and also 8 St George’s Place, adjacent to the MX.
The flagship MX project, which is set to become the new headquarters for Cheltenham Festivals, a cyber workspace, café and home to the town’s business support network, The Growth Hub, was originally due to open in May 2022.
Bruce Gregory, a director of Workshop Cheltenham Ltd, the driving force behind the project, said it had come up against ‘significant’ inflation, construction and financial challenges and ‘other issues’, but was now able to proceed.
Gregory, who is also the managing director of the county-based cyber-focused Hub8 workspaces, said: ‘We know only too well the importance of the MX scheme in terms of its positive impact on Cheltenham High Street, and the town’s burgeoning cyber and technology community and so we are grateful to Cheltenham Borough Council for their intervention and their financial support to ensure this project will achieve the benefits for Cheltenham.'
Councillor Rowena Hay, leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, added: ‘Strategic investments with regeneration at its heart are vital to protect our local economy, generate income to protect council services and offer long-term assurance that Cheltenham continues to attract investment and punch above its weight.
‘With Cheltenham’s ambitions to become the cyber capital of the UK as part of the Golden Valley development, the arrival of the MX, creating a vibrant town centre quarter and our high street acquisitions, we are confident that the town’s economy will continue to grow, thrive and prosper.’
Funding for the 20,000 square foot MX centre was approved at a cabinet meeting in November 2020, with the council agreeing to accept £3.114 million from GFirst LEP – won from central government's Getting Building Fund – to make it happen.
An initial land deal clearing the way for the scheme was announced in March 2021 with the price of the project first quoted as £5 million, rising to £6.8 million by early 2022. It now looks like that cost will be closer to £10 million with a spring opening date announced in November still possible, but potentially stretching into the summer.
A statement from the council said the extra £2.5 million of funding would ‘ensure value for the taxpayer’ and that the project ‘remains financially viable with a 25-year return on investment, a common rate of return in the construction industry. It will open in spring/summer 2023’.