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Ten years since shopping centre opened
IT WAS hailed by the then borough council leader as “a jewel in the crown” – and there is no doubt that 10 years on, Festival Place remains a real gem for Basingstoke.
October 22, 2002 – that was the historic day that the doors first opened at the £300million shopping and leisure complex.
On the very first day, 89,000 shoppers visited the centre, and over the past decade, Festival Place has attracted more than 250 million visitors through its doors.
When it launched, it was the largest retail and leisure development to open in the UK that year, with 165 shops, including big chain stores such as Debenhams, BHS and Marks & Spencer, which remain a decade on.
The Gazette ran a special pull-out publication when it opened, entitled ‘Festival Place – a new dawn for Basingstoke’.
Along with a vast range of shops, the new centre also boasted 18 bars and restaurants, a nightclub, a sports centre, a 10-screen cinema, a 3,000-space car park and a library.
Councillor Brian Gurden, who was leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council at the time, described Festival Place as the “jewel in the crown” of the town.
At one million square feet, Festival Place is about twice the size of the former shopping centre The Walks.
It took about three years to complete, starting with the demolition of New Market Square in January 1999.
Over the past decade, the centre – which in September was sold by Grosvenor Group, its original owners, to American pensions company TIAACREF for £280m – has won a string of awards and scores of admirers as it has attracted people from Basingstoke and beyond.
Councillor Clive Sanders, today’s leader of the borough council, said: “Festival Place has clearly made a tremendous difference to both the attractiveness and vibrancy of the town centre, not just as a shopping centre but as a good neighbour by getting involved in many other community activities.
“They have inspired us to refurbish The Malls and to start the process of looking at the regeneration of the Top of The Town area, and it is very encouraging that the new owners want to play a full part in this process. We wish them many more successful years ahead.”