A cinema boss says the auction of the Wellgate Shopping Centre could put plans for a movie theatre back on track.
Plans for a cinema in the Dundee centre were first mooted in 2013 by London-based company, Light Cinemas, who invested around £100,000 in an eight-screen complex which was set to open in 2017.
But plans fell through in 2018 after talks between shopping centre bosses and the independent cinema firm collapsed.
It was thought at the time that the cinema chain were considering an alternative site in the city but no new proposals emerged.
But eight years later, John Sullivan, director at Light Cinemas, says the firm “have not lost interest” in the Wellgate and would be “very enthusiastic to talk to whoever buys the centre” after it was announced it would be going up for auction later this month.
John said: “We really believe that a family orientated cinema in the centre on Dundee would be very desirable for the people of Dundee.”
John added that previously, the firm struggled with the confines of the 40-year-old shopping centre to fit a cinema complex in – but believes if the Wellgate undergoes a “complete rework”, it could be suitable for their latest cinema opening model.
We've teased you enough, but we're so excited to announce we'll be opening Friday 28 May, cinema tickets and bowling are on sale now – go and have a nosey around! 🎟 🎳 🍔 https://t.co/kVnmMvztk6 pic.twitter.com/0uQV2mhSek
— LightSittingbourne (@LightSittingbrn) May 18, 2021
The light cinema have recently opened a number of cinema multiplexes across the UK, which includes nine cinema screens and bowling, which John believes “would work very well in Dundee”.
John said: “This is our latest cinema opening and gives an idea of what I’d love to do at the Wellgate.
Cinema boss sees ‘huge potential’ in Dundee
“The difficulty is that it’s a shopping centre that suited the 1980s but doesn’t really fit with the 21st century and really struggled against the Overgate when it was built.
“I still think that the Wellgate would make an ideal platform for a leisure orientated destination, so more than just a cinema.
“We have not lost interest in the site, so I’m looking forward to talking to any new owner of the Wellgate to discuss how we could participate in a leisure orientated scheme.
“We thought Dundee had huge potential and we’ve been proved right. It was over seven years ago we were doing the Wellgate and over the last seven years it’s just kept on getting stronger and stronger and we saw that coming.”
Centre is opportunity for ‘bold investor’
Tim Allan, president of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and owner of Tricorn Capital, a commercial property investment company in Dundee, does not think the space is a “destination for yet more retail”.
Tim said: “Dundee’s high street is facing the same challenges as other high streets across Scotland and the UK face.
“Competition with online retailing and failing footfall for town centres is a concern for every shopping centre in the country so Dundee is no different.
“The Wellgate has struggled for a long time to attract a market to define what it was and the Overgate represents an extraordinarily good facilities, further up in the city.
“I think that this is an opportunity for a bold investor to come in and re-imagine what you do with that space, not necessarily that building.”
He added: “I’d like to think whoever buys it will work closely with Dundee City Council in getting a much more holistic solution, rather than posing another shopping centre or another thing that they think they need.
“They should actually try and understand what it is that the city needs.”
‘Less retail and more leisure’
Director of Dundee Omnis properties, Derek Mawhinney, who earlier this year told the story of how he purchased a building he had been fired in ten years earlier thinks the space should be used to bring more traffic into Dundee’s city centre.
Derek said: “I think whoever takes on the Wellgate Centre certainly has a task on their hands to seriously re-brand it and get footfall back into the city.
“We’re losing a lot of shops as retail along the country dwindles so we need to start looking a big further afield with maybe less retail and more leisure.”
He added: “I know that we’ve got JD up there, could we build on the success of the gym and look at different things to compliment that as well?
“I know that there have been discussions in the past about a cinema, we’ve also looked at the option of bringing an activity centre into the centre, so something that’s going to drive footfall back into the city.”
The centre, which opened in 1978, is being sold at auction along with its 76 retail units and 583-space multi-storey car park at a starting price of £500,000.