Aberdeen’s business improvement district has been given a resounding endorsement by city centre traders – with the businesses and politicians opting for a “united front” through the Covid recovery.
Nearly 86% of votes cast in the five-yearly ballot on the district’s (Bid) future was for its continuation, a huge share of the vote for operators Aberdeen Inspired.
In 2016, at the previous ballot, they captured 63% of the vote.
Leader of Aberdeen City Council, Jenny Laing, said members were “absolutely delighted” with the “overwhelming” majority in favour.
Earlier this week, the local authority submitted 18 votes in favour of renewing the Bid, first started 10 years ago.
Mrs Laing said: “Voters clearly recognise the ongoing importance of Aberdeen Inspired as we collectively work towards ensuring we have a prosperous, viable and enhanced city centre which will attract visitors from far and wide.
“The news is a huge boost to our plans, including the city centre masterplan, which is designed to rejuvenate Aberdeen’s historic hub with enhanced offerings such as the new Union Terrace Gardens, Art Gallery, Provost Skene’s House and Music Hall; new urban realm such as the Queen Street redevelopment; better transport access; world-class cultural offerings and an overall transformation of the area’s look. All of which is aimed at making the centre of Aberdeen an attractive place to live, work and spend leisure time in.
“We as a council recognise Aberdeen Inspired has done a great job in generating new revenue streams within the Bid area and has been instrumental in bringing in events such as Nuart which have not only proved massively popular with the public but have also increased footfall in retail and leisure premises. We look forward to working with Adrian Watson and his team over the next five years .
“A united front with everyone pulling in the same direction is essential as we look forward to putting our post-Covid recovery plans into effect and ensure that our businesses benefit from the positivity the Bid can help bring about.”
The renewal comes at a time of increased turmoil for the high street, and as Aberdeen tries to move beyond oil and gas.
A £150 million war chest has been put aside to fund a refresh of the city centre and the beach – with the potential for pedestrianisation of Union Street part of the discussion.
Retail voice needed in city centre refresh amid ‘unprecedented challenges’
Vice-chairman of Aberdeen Inspired’s board and centre manager at Bon Accord Aberdeen, Craig Stevenson, told us: “After a year of unprecedented challenges for the high street and the devastating permanent closure of long-established Aberdeen stores such as John Lewis and Debenhams, the need for a dedicated focus on helping the city centre to recover from the pandemic is more critical than ever before.
“Busy streets and shopping centres will help us to attract new brands as we recover from months of enforced closures and events such as the Christmas Village, the international street art festival Nuart and Restaurant Week are absolutely vital to increase footfall.”
Ryan Manson, general manager at Union Square, added that “The last year has been undeniably tough but has also really highlighted the importance of community and supporting one another.
“As restrictions ease and Aberdeen comes to life once again, Aberdeen Inspired’s work to create an experience to be proud of in the heart of our city is more important than ever.”
Watch Derren McRae, head of CBRE’s Aberdeen office and Aberdeen Inspired board member, explain why he believes in the Bid.
Faith in Aberdeen Inspired’s ‘very special team’ to get traders through ‘dark days’
Chairman of the Greater George Street Traders’ Association and general manager at Finnies The Jewellers, Stuart Milne, said the need for the trading district was “probably greater than ever”.
“I’m absolutely sure that when we get through these dark days of the pandemic, the Bid will be more useful than ever to us in getting through the problems that all high street businesses are facing and may continue to face for some time,” he said.
“Aberdeen Inspired is run by a very special team which has been recognised nationally and internationally in Europe, so we can be assured that the continuation will be in the safest of hands.
“In these days where the news of the high street is very sad indeed, we’re going to need all the help that we can get.”
Traders signing up to voluntarily contribute to Bid effort
Aberdeen Inspired raises around £1 million annually through its mandatory levy – usually of 1% of the rateable value of a business premises.
For the next year, the charge is to be halved.
But small businesses, in properties rated at less than £27,500, are exempt from paying.
That has not stopped Books And Beans owner John Wigglesworth, who has voluntarily handed over cash as he has so much trust in the Bid team to deliver on promises of bringing continental ‘cafe culture’ to the Granite City.
Having taken over the well-known Belmont Street coffee shop, with shelves packed with more than 12,000 books, only months before the first lockdown last year, Mr Wigglesworth has been eager to make use of outdoor trading opportunities allowed by the Spaces For People physical distancing work.
He said: “Books and Beans has made a direct investment into improving the city centre through our outdoor dining area. These are loved by customers who have signed our petition in their thousands to make the Belmont area a pedestrian one.
“Aberdeen Inspired has been very supportive of our area and we are fully supportive of the work Aberdeen Inspired does to improve our city centre and support local businesses by creating reasons for visitors to come into town and spend time in our cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, museums and galleries.
“As a small, independent business we do not have to pay the Bid levy but we have decided to pay on an entirely voluntary basis as we appreciate the benefits we gain from Aberdeen Inspired’s work with city centre business to improve public spaces for day-time and night time use by consumers.”