Ambitious plans to change the face of the biggest shopping centre in the Highlands have been unveiled by its new owners.
Scoop Asset Management’s proposals for Falcon Square at the Eastgate complex in Inverness include a new rooftop bar on top of the complex.
The centre and the nearby Filling Station restaurant would also be expanded to create a “continental-style” civic space.
The property group bought the Eastgate in July from BMO Real Estate Partners – formerly F&C Reit – as part of a £116million deal.
Scoop also inherited previously granted planning permission for a multimillion-pound scheme to expand the centre with new shops, restaurants and a multiplex cinema.
The latest proposals will supersede those previously approved.
Scoop principal, Graham Cole, said the opportunity to expand was “fundamental” to the decision to buy the centre, and said the new plans would fit with other regeneration schemes in the area, including a proposed revamp of the nearby railway station.
But he warned about the possibility of permission being granted for a major revamp of the out-of-town Inverness Shopping Park, which includes the addition of branches of Nando’s, Frankie and Benny’s and TGI Fridays.
The shopping park proposals are due to be discussed by councillors next week, and have been recommended for approval by planning officers.
Mr Cole said: “Falcon Square appears to be an untapped jewel in the crown, which at present is a bit stark.
“It has all the hallmarks of a continental square and we want to use this space to bring vibrancy back into the city.
“We are aware of the alternative proposals to provide restaurants on Inverness retail park but in our view the life of the city and as wide a range of facilities as possible in the city centre are of primary importance.
“Restaurant operators will not open in both locations.”
The company said its plans looked “organically” at Falcon Square as a whole, with the new frontage of the centre in a curved shape with glazed restaurants looking out over the plaza.
It added that discussions were “well underway” to take the scheme forward this year.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the plans yesterday but said he did not believe it was a case of either one thing or the other when it came to the city centre or out-of-town.
He said: “The original plan from Eastgate was quite impressive looking and would have been a welcome addition for the city and I expect this would be the same.
“I think there are challenges for city centres everywhere and Inverness is no different.
“I don’t think that allowing redevelopment of the retail park would help solve any of the city centre’s problems.”
He added: “For me it’s not a case of one thing or the other.
“In fact, I think it is quite encouraging that developers are considering multimillion developments at both and it’s a recognition of how buoyant the economy of Inverness and the Highlands is.”
Plans for the £13million revamp of Inverness Shopping Park are due to be ruled on by councillors next week.
The park’s owners want to move the three new restaurants into the vacant Comet store.
At least two of the three eaterie operators have insisted they would be interested in opening in both locations.
The Restaurant Group, which own Frankie and Benny’s and the Filling Station, has been in talks with the Eastgate about opening a new Frankie and Benny’s and one of its Chiquita franchises in the mall.
The firm said it had been trying to locate a Frankie and Benny’s in the city centre since 1998.
Meanwhile, Peter Atkinson, senior acquisitions manager with Nandos Chickenland said the company had “submitted an offer on the proposed development with the cinema with the intention it would be a second restaurant in Inverness” to go with the planned outlet at the retail park.