A rent-free deal hoped to entice businesses back to Union Street is stirring interest – with hopes it could half the number of empty premises along the Granite Mile.
Already more than 20 firms have come forward to talk about taking a subsidised spot.
There are around 40 vacant properties currently up for grabs.
Taskforce Our Union Street is looking to fill up empty units – and make better use of premises while they remain vacant.
Lifeless shop windows could become a mile-long gallery displaying everything from the Great Tapestry of Scotland to school children’s artwork.
Ideas on how to do that have been unveiled by Bob Keiller’s Granite Mile collective in its second white paper.
They will be put in place alongside the two-year break on rents and business rates – hailed “the most generous incentives” in the UK when launched in August.
In just over a month, the offer – which also includes a host of other perks like free internet and marketing help – has generated around two dozen leads.
And now, from 10,000 public ideas, Our Union Street is focus on five key themes to turn around the fortunes of the diminished city high street.
Union Street’s empty shops – and how to fill them
Our Union Street’s white paper outlines the currently state of empty shops on the Granite Mile.
Volunteers assessing the task at hand believe cleaning windows, repairing broken panes, washing stone columns and fascias would make an immediate impact.
When shop signs have been removed, bare “ugly” plinths line Aberdeen’s main shopping street.
Our Union Street could end up taking on the burden of putting the sparkle back in the Granite Mile themselves.
In return for freshening up paintwork and clean windows, landlords could be asked to extend the two-year rent-free period for potential tenants – or at least to ensure rents are “very competitive”.
Similar spruce ups could spread to occupied shop fronts too, as part of volunteer efforts to improve the street’s appearance.
Previously, surveyors estimated an £11 million bill to restore Union Street to its former glory.
Why would landlords sign up to cut-rate rents on Union Street?
Cut-rate rents on Union Street may have seemed unthinkable in years gone by.
Long fought for revaluations of business rates in Scotland have come into effect – meaning some landlord’s bills have dropped by an average of 25%.
But Aberdeen City Council took advantage of new powers to change the relief owners would receive for their property being empty.
It was slashed from 100% down to 50% for three months and then just 10%.
Landlords are now faced with the prospect of paying 90% of the business rates bill for an empty Granite Mile premises.
Or, alternatively, they can talk to Our Union Street about potentially renting out their liability out on the cheap.
As the white paper states: “There is now an economic advantage to renting units at lower rates than would have previously been considered.”
It adds: “There may not be a strong demand specifically for empty units on Union Street at present, but this can be stimulated with energetic and persistent marketing and providing a compelling commercial offering.
“Further work is needed in this area.”
Energy efficiency grants could add another £30,000 to landlord’s war chest – but the taskforce warns not enough people know about either handout.
On-street gallery ‘would go a long way’ to make empty Union Street shops look better
Shops will continue to sit empty while work to turn around Union Street continues.
In the meantime, Our Union Street’s strategists believe their shop windows could be used to put Aberdeen… in the shop window.
Work is already under way to work out how much display space could be found in the vacant units to exhibit art and culture.
They want to come up with a consistent method of hanging display boards in various empty units, which could display QR codes to encourage visitors to learn more through online stories, audio and video pieces.
Our Union Street’s white paper highlights the resultant traffic different art could bring to the Granite Mile.
It reads: “If we had local primary schools providing stories and pictures there is no doubt that parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles would all be ‘brought’ to Union Street to enjoy the exhibition.
“What if we displayed pictures of the panels of the Great Tapestry of Scotland across multiple windows along with which aspect of Scottish history or society each panel depicts.”
Other suggestions include an exhibition of unsung heroes and heroines of the north-east.