Newport's Friars Walk 'attracts 10 million in one year'
Bosses at Newport's landmark £90m city centre shopping complex claim it has attracted 10 million shoppers into the city since it opened 12 months ago.
Friars Walk, 15 years in the planning and a cornerstone of the city's regeneration, opened in November 2015.
Shoppers welcomed the centre but some traders outside said they felt "forgotten" and were "dying a death."
Newport council leader Debbie Wilcox said: "Friars Walk is the catalyst to Newport's regeneration."
Saturday is Friars Walk's one year anniversary and is also the day Newport turns on its Christmas lights.
While the centre is key to the city's redevelopment, Mrs Wilcox admitted it was "not the complete answer".
Bosses at Friars Walk, which has 28 shops, 12 restaurants, a cinema and bowling alley, said it has created 1,500 jobs and attracted £120m into the local economy since opening on John Frost Square.
The 390,000 sq ft mall is "95% full" with six units remaining. Owners Queensberry Real Estate hope to make announcements for new stores in 2017.
Centre director Simon Pullen said: "With an average 200,000 customers visiting us on a weekly basis, estimates show Friars Walk has been able to double retail sales in Newport.
"We have brought over 10 million people into Newport. Whilst Friars Walk is a big thing for Newport, I'm hoping the city centre sees this as the start of reinvigorating the whole of Newport city centre."
Lucy Evans, Debenhams sales manager, said: "Debenhams coming to Newport has been talked about for 15 to 20 years. It has been a real success for us as our customers have given us a tremendous welcome."
The city centre traders
Traders in Newport's market and Newport Arcade, near the railway station, said they were waiting to feel the ripple effect of Friars Walk.
"Some of us are hanging on by the skin on our teeth," said Angela Roberts, who has owned The Pot Cafe in Newport Arcade since 2005.
"When Friars Walk opened we saw an uplift and I thought 'thank God'.
"But when the buses stopped going down High Street to go straight to Friars Walk on 11 December last year, that killed us. The elderly people who we relied on, struggle to get to the top of town now. We feel cut off and forgotten. We are dying a death.
"I owe a vast amount, at least £100,000. I remortgaged my house so everything is on the line for me. My house is now not worth what it is mortgaged for."
Commercial Street, once Newport's main shopping thoroughfare, has a host of empty shops despite its proximity to Friars Walk.
The family-owned Wildings department store, a staple of shopping in Newport since 1874, has scaled down its store by a third, making 15 staff redundant.
"Prior to Friars Walk, Wildings, along with all other large format stores suffered decreases for 10 years on the trot," said Peter James, managing director of Wildings, which is a two-minute walk from Debenhams.
"We suffered a further decline last year and this decrease was in all likelihood exacerbated by the direct competition that Debenhams has posed."
The growth of online shopping has been a challenge for every high street as has the emergence of out-of-town retail parks.
Newport's Retail Park at Spytty "combined with poor parking facilities in the town centre for the last 10 to 11 years" has been blamed for Wildings' downsizing.
The University of South Wales' new city centre campus and major housing developments on the banks of the River Usk and the old Llanwern steelworks are part of Newport's regeneration.
But Cardiff Metropolitan University's professor of entrepreneurship, Brian Morgan, feels integration between the traditional traders and Friars Walk is "crucial" to Newport's long-term success.
"First indications are Friars Walk has been a success in increasing footfall into Newport," he said.
"But to really be a success, Newport has to carve a niche and create an identity that's different from Cardiff and Bristol. That will require some upmarket and niche shops.
"There must be more integration between the old and new city centre, there's still a divide.
"It's achieving that local impact but that will happen in the first year. Repeat business year after year will only come if there is a different kind of shopping experience."
The council leader
Friars Walk finally opened in 2015 after Newport council loaned developers £90m.
"Without Friars Walk, we'd be a decade behind where we need to be," said Mrs Wilcox.
"The city had to change - and Friars Walk changed the face of Newport overnight.
"There are critics but we had to start somewhere. The majority of people in Newport see it as a positive step.
Mrs Wilcox said she was "shocked" to hear traders were struggling with six-figure debts and felt "extreme concern" about some of Newport's traders feeling left out.
"We are in the process of regeneration. But we need to look to help every trader."