University of Wolverhampton pulls out of deal to buy Beatties over renovation costs
The University of Wolverhampton has pulled out of a deal to buy Beatties, leaving the landmark building facing an uncertain future.
A deal for the university to take over the Beatties site had looked set to be completed this month but has collapsed after education leaders walked away from negotiations, the Express & Star can reveal.
University officials unveiled their grand vision for the future of the famous department store in the summer, which would have involved using part of the building for lectures but also retaining an element of retail.
But they decided to pull out after surveys of the building and other due diligence revealed the financial outlay needed to renovate the Victorian building would be too high.
The ambitious plan was widely welcomed by officials in the city who saw it as an ideal solution to secure a future for the iconic shop that is synonymous with Wolverhampton.
It is thought developers keen on creating a residential development could now be in the driving seat to buy the store.
Sources confirmed other parties had met the asking price before the university was identified as the preferred bidder, with more interested.
If that is the case it could mean Beatties closing to the public for the final time within weeks after more than 140 years in Wolverhampton, with House of Fraser to move to the Mander Centre in the new year.
Beatties was put up for sale earlier this year after being taken into receivership. The university had offered around £3m for the building.
However, it remains to be seen whether the city council will come back into the running for the site after previously making way to leave the path clear for the university.
Figures at the top of the authority are known to be uncomfortable with the prospect of a developer snapping up the Beatties building and leaving it empty. Agents marketing the building are understood to be keen to get a deal done before Christmas.
University leaders say they remain committed to delivering their vision that had been planned for Beatties on another site.
A university spokesman said: "It is well documented that the university expressed a strong interest in buying the Beatties building in Wolverhampton.
"As part of that we entered into a lengthy due diligence process with the administrators. Unfortunately, the university has now taken the decision to withdraw from the process.
"This is not a decision we have taken lightly but is due to the subsequent mounting costs of having to refurbish the building due to its infrastructure. The risk was too high when considering the wider university and our commitment to our future vision."
"The university recognises what an important building Beatties is to the fabric of the city, and will continue to be supportive of plans to protect it for the future."
Pat McFadden, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Wolverhampton South West, said it was a blow for the city.
He said: "This is very disappointing news. Beatties has been an iconic store in Wolverhampton for many years but we all know how difficult the retail environment is right now, particularly for traditional department stores.
"The university’s proposals offered a new future for the building. The fact that they have pulled out places a big question mark over that future.
"The last thing we want is another prominent building in Wolverhampton lying empty for years."