Work is poised to start next week on a £13million revamp of the north’s biggest retail park – bringing a trio of popular restaurant chains to the Highlands for the first time.
Bosses at the Inverness Shopping Park confirmed yesterday that they expected the new Nando’s and Frankie & Benny’s eateries to have opened their doors before Christmas.
TGI Fridays, another well known brand, is expected to be hot on their heels as the former Comet store at the retail park is transformed into three restaurant units.
Further work to improve the front of existing stores and revamp the parking arrangements is also due to get under way at the east Inverness site, just off the A96 Aberdeen road.
The revamp follows a lengthy campaign which divided the city’s business community.
Retail park manager Kirsteen Gunn confirmed the timetable to the Press and Journal last night.
“We’re delighted to have appointed local contractors Robertson to carry out the works at Inverness Shopping Park,” she said.
“The first part of the project will be upgrading the frontages at the former Comet store, Boots and the vacant unit next door to New Look.
“The works will also split the former Comet unit into three stores, to provide space for our new restaurant line up.
“It’s also very exciting to be able to unveil the first two restaurants as Nando’s and Frankie & Benny’s.
“Work will start on all three in early June and the first two will be open for business in time for the Christmas period.”
Along with the upgrade to the existing shops, a customer services building will be created to house toilets and baby changing facilities, as well as a play area.
The park claims that 180 full and part-time jobs will be created as a result of the revamp.
Councillors approved the plans in January despite opposition from city centre businesses, including the Eastgate centre and Inverness BID group.
Mike Smith, manager of Inverness Bid, said: “We objected to the planning application three times. We won the first two and also won it on appeal.
“This time, despite the best efforts of Richard Laird and Donnie Kerr, we were very disappointed to lose.
“It was very disappointing because these are destination restaurants and it will be detrimental to the city centre.
“Although there may be claims that there will be new jobs created, there will be others lost as well.
“It was the wrong decision and I think it’s a sad day for the economy of the city centre.”
Despite the opposition, a petition urging approval of the three new diners attracted more than 1,200 signatures in less than 48 hours last year.
Frank Reid, regional managing director for Robertson, said: “This is another exciting development for Inverness and underlines further the strength and growth in the Highlands’ economy.
“We are looking forward to starting work on this exciting project with Inverness Shopping Park and, continuing our commitment to the area, we will once again look first to local tradesmen to fill any opportunities that arise as a result.”