Just as Station Hill took 20 years and many lost millions before it got going, Reading’s Bristol & West Arcade seems to have had a similarly troubled history, albeit on a smaller scale.
For many years the site, and the adjoining arcade known as Market Way, seemed an integral part of the town, linking Friar Street to Broad Street and providing for varied retailers, many of them independent.
There was controversy many decades ago when nearby Marks & Spencer closed a side entrance into the arcade, perhaps the start of its decline.
Had both Market Way and the Bristol & West arcades lasted until The Oracle opened in 1999, this could have been an attractive through route.
Instead, an overambitious redevelopment began just before the financial crash of 2008 and, apparently, there’s a half-built swimming pool somewhere in it, which was part of that plan, but which will have to be dismantled.
Various sales and abortive ambitions were discussed in recent years before attractive plans for a hotel emerged, won consent and promptly vanished from view before the latest proposals, which are reported exclusively in Thames Tap.
Mountley Group recently bought the site for less than £3m. Its previous sale had been for £8m.
Perhaps we can be glad the modern day troubles of the site, where 41 people were killed in the infamous 1943 German bombing of the People’s Pantry, are merely financial. But the saga illustrates the many factors developers have to deal with.
In our conversation with Fiona Brownfoot of Hicks Baker on the town centre, she pointed out that developers, for all the bad press they get, are the ones who have to take risks on sites that, with a change of political winds, can go from potential success to failure. Station Hill and the Bristol & West Arcade would seem to illustrate the point rather well.
One smaller site which seems to have generated optimism after a troubled few years, is the former Baron Cadogan pub in Caversham.
In another exclusive, Thames Tap has reported a local restaurant operator has taken the lease, prompting many on social media to celebrate, such is the reputation of the new leaseholder.
The couple who will run it are working flat out on their plans. Another example of people prepared to make the effort and take the risk to try to succeed. If the response from locals is anything to go by, they have every chance.
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