AN EXTRA £200,000 is to be spent on marketing the Brunel Centre as a regional shopping destination It is part of a bid to further boost visitor numbers and unit occupancy rates,which have increased in the year since receivers were called in.

The shopping centre in the heart of Swindon’s town centre was placed under the control of receivers on December 23, 2011 when centre owners, CIT, did not meet the terms of a long-term loan against the building which it used to buy the centre for £130m.

The financial crisis resulted from a fall in property values over the last few years.

The value of the centre had been reduced to £87m, which is less than the value of the loan.

First Investments was appointed by Loan Servicers Solutus Advisers as the centre’s property manager in March 2012 and asset manager in July 2012, meaning for some months it has been the centre manager. Loan Servicers Solutus Advisers works on behalf of the administrators, who include Deutsche Bank.

Since taking over, First Investments says it has reduced empty shop space from 11 per cent – 58,494 sq ft – to 3.34 per cent, while the rent arrears owed by traders have fallen from £598,000 to just £35,147. Meanwhile, footfall in the last three months of 2012 was up 100,00 visitors on the same period in 2011.

And First Investments has announced the administrators are injecting another £100,000 into the marketing budget, matched by £100,000 from the service charge budget funded by tenants.

This money will be used to market the centre regionally and locally to drive up footfall, occupancy rates and the value of the centre.

A marketing campaign is to start soon and is expected to take effect by the summer.

A spokesman for First Investments said: “Loan Servicers Solutus Advisers are acting for the CMBS bond holders and they see untapped potential in the Brunel.

“They have brought in retail specialists to assess the Brunel, one of these is Bernard Ferris, the head of shopping centres at Colliers International whose preliminary conclusion regarding the Brunel is ‘The retail offer just needs refining and delivering to a wider audience’.

“Plans in the pipeline include a regional as well as a local marketing campaign and a new signage programme for the centre in the town as well as exploring other opportunities with Forward Swindon, which is focusing on retail investment in the town. “Alternative uses for the arcade extension are also being considered.”

She also said that letting agents in Swindon, Bristol and London had secured one new tenant, The Fragrance Shop, which is now trading, and another new tenant was expected to be announced early this year.

She said “Footfall at the centre continues to be strong with one million visitors in June. Overall it is three per cent up on last year and three per cent above the national average.”

Business as usual, say traders

TRADERS in The Brunel say the last year has been business as usual, despite the centre going into receivership.
Barry Cook, the co-owner of Cafelicious, which has been trading from Havelock Square since 2006, said: “It’s not changed at all. I cannot see it’s affected the town at all. I just think it’s something and nothing.
“The only thing I would say is, having contacts with businesses elsewhere in the country, we’re lucky with the management we do have that they’re as helpful as they are. “
James Elsbury, the manager of Famous Memorabilia, said: “It’s businesses as usual. It hasn’t really affected us so we have just been ploughing on as normal.”
Matt Hardy, the assistant manager of men’s fashion shop The Forum, said: “We haven’t seen any difference.
“If anything they have been more proactive to get people into the centre.
“There has been a lot more entertainment and things going on on Saturdays to increase footfall.”