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EXCLUSIVE: University of Wolverhampton launches bid to buy Beatties building

By Richard Guttridge | Wolverhampton | Business | Published:

The University of Wolverhampton has launched a bid to buy Beatties and take the historic building into a new era.

Beatties has been at the heart of Wolverhampton for decades

Leaders have unveiled their vision for the future of the iconic store, which they say would be “mixed-use” in its new guise, featuring shops, a cafe and restaurant but also acting as a university building with classes for students.

They said a new-look Beatties would include “incubation space” for fledgling businesses, “residential, pop-up retail and leisure opportunities” as well as “a focus on arts and cultural activities”.

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The bold move by the university could also involve courses such as fashion and textiles being delivered at street level.

Beatties is available for just £3 million after being taken into receivership.

It was previously sold for £47m in 2006.

The university has stepped in to try to preserve the building and give it a fresh lease of life for the 21st century but it means the Beatties store generations of families in Wolverhampton have known for more than a century looks to be nearing the end.

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It is understood any deal would be done on the condition of House of Fraser, now owned by Sports Direct, exiting the building in the near future.

The historic retailer has been struggling over recent years, with its glory days in the heart of Wolverhampton becoming a distant memory.

University leaders insist they want the building to remain accessible to the public.

It is also likely the name Beatties would remain connected to the building as an acknowledgement to its history.

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Shops, a cafe and a restaurant are all planned and creating jobs for its students would also be a big part of the new site.

The takeover would also allow the university to sell off some of its smaller and disused buildings.

If the bid is accepted it will continue the huge investment in Wolverhampton from the university over recent years and expand its growing influence in the city.

Professor Geoff Layer, the university’s vice-chancellor, said: “Wolverhampton is very much a university city and we want, alongside our other civic partners, to ensure that it remains a vibrant and viable place for people to study, work and live.

Professor Geoff Layer, who is the vice chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton

“This iconic building lies at the heart of the city and it would be our intention to use the space creatively, working with our staff and students as well as external partners and local stakeholders to breathe life back into the building and to create a new chapter for Beatties and for the university.

“We have invested significantly in the city and this is the next step to assist in long term regeneration as well as further demonstrating our commitment to the city, the university and securing our place as the leading higher education provider in the region.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, the former boss of John Lewis, said he hoped whoever is successful in buying Beatties would commit to investing in its future.

He said: “Beatties is a Wolverhampton landmark and is part of the heartbeat of the city centre. It absolutely cannot be allowed to fall into disrepair and everything should be done to preserve this iconic building.”

The announcement of the university bid comes after the Express & Star revealed interested parties had been given until the end of this week to submit their offers.

Other interest

Wolverhampton Council, which itself has had interest in Beatties, said it supported the university's plan.

Economy boss Councillor Harman Banger said: "Our primary consideration is that the Beatties building is acquired by a reliable partner who will deliver new, exciting and viable future plans for this iconic site. We want what is best for Wolverhampton.

"We wholeheartedly support the acquisition proposal put forward by the University of Wolverhampton. This is entirely compatible with the council’s regeneration vision for the city centre and investment commitment. We stand ready to work with the University to make this vision a reality.”

It is understood there is other interest aside from the university and the council but it is unclear how many bids will be made.

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct saved Beatties from closure less than a year ago as part of the takeover of House of Fraser.

A virtually rent-free deal was agreed to keep the store open.

Sports Direct agreed an original lease until August 9, although the future is uncertain.

As well as negotiating a new deal with Sports Direct, converting Beatties into student accommodation or flats have been suggested as alternative uses in a sale brochure.

Yesterday it emerged Sports Direct won the bidding war for Jack Wills, adding yet another brand to Mike Ashley’s high street empire.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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