IT IS hard to imagine Basingstoke without Festival Place – and that just goes to show what an impact the shopping and leisure centre has had on the town since it opened 10 years ago this week.

To mark the anniversary, a celebratory gathering was held on the upper level of the shopping centre, where many of the people who have contributed to its success shared memories over Champagne and canapés.

While there, they were serenaded by violinist Kai Choi and entertained by members of Basingstoke Rock Choir.

Back in 2002, the one million sq ft complex was billed as a new dawn for Basingstoke. It was the largest retail and leisure development that opened in the UK in 2002, with 165 shops, 18 cafes, bars and restaurants and a 10-screen cinema.

The £300million redevelopment was the result of a shared vision to transform and update Basingstoke town centre – giving it a new face, heart and soul.

A man who was tasked with meeting that expectation was Festival Place’s first centre director Bernard Ferris, who was very much involved with its development and launch.

Looking back on the last decade, Mr Ferris said: “Festival Place has brought life and vibrancy to Basingstoke and it continues to be a success, which is very important in a very difficult economic climate.

“It just shows what a good project Festival Place was in the first place. I think people are beginning to realise the true standing of the town.”

Current centre director Steven Connolly has been in charge for six years.

“This feels like a very positive milestone,” said Mr Connolly. “One of the great things about Festival Place is it is part of the community.

“We are a major retail shopping centre but by being in the town centre, it means something more because we can celebrate our tenth anniversary with the community.

“We’ve had something like 180 million visitors since we opened, and I think we are looking great. We’ve got some great retailers and they are trading fantastically well.

“The centre is about our retailers and our customers and the Festival Place team.” Mr Connolly singled out some members of the team who have been involved in Festival Place from the very beginning. Among these are marketing administrator Caroline Morris, who described the centre as “a terrific place to work”, and maintenance supervisor Alan Lipscombe.

Grosvenor Group, which built the centre and opened it in 2002, sold Festival Place to American asset management firm TIAA-CREF, for £280m this summer.

Attending the 10-year celebration was Anthony Butler, senior director at TIAA-CREF Asset Management UK, who introduced himself to guests and wished the centre a happy birthday and success.

He said the acquisition of Festival Place represented a return to the UK retail sector for the company.

Mr Butler said: “Retail represents a good investment opportunity for us. We spent a lot of time looking at the UK retail market and Festival Place epitomises the kind of shopping centre experience we are looking to buy.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to buy into a shopping centre that is already established and increasingly dominates and which has, in our view, lots of potential. So we are not looking at short-term gains. We’re looking at long-term value creation.”