£1.5m to breathe new life into the Corn Xchange

A £1.5million refurbishment is set to transform Leeds's Corn Xchange into a vibrant shopping centre to rival the city's upmarket Victoria Quarter.

The Grade I listed, 144-year-old building ,has been allowed to fall into disrepair in recent years and its incredible 75ft high dome – the second largest in Europe – leaks when it rains.

Now owners Zurich Assurance have revealed plans to spend around 1.5million to repair the roof, floor and lighting and redecorate the centre.

Michael Knowles, a spokesman for the Corn Xchange, said: "We are keen to ensure that we develop the potential of this fantastic site.

"We want to ensure that when the best new brands seek to locate in Leeds, the Corn Xchange is their venue of choice."

Mr Knowles said it was not known how long the Corn Xchange refurbishment project would take but a detailed timetable would be created to minimise disruption.

Kevin Grady, director of Leeds Civic Trust, welcomed the project.

He said: "Clearly the building had lost some of its smartness over recent years so the fact that they are going to spend a lot of money to bring it back to a first-rate condition is very pleasing."

Although traders are pleased the historic building is to be transformed many fear the owners want to replace them with big-name brands that will change it from a haven for small, independent retailers into an anonymous shopping centre.

They fear they are being driven out ahead of the renovations.

Vision

And they claim at least one business was being kicked out because it did not fit in with the owners' vision of the shopping centre in the future.

Rod Witton, director of Phoenix Beard, which manages the centre on behalf of Threadneedle Properties – the property arm of Zurich – said he was unable to discuss individual cases but confirmed the shop would be closing.

Mr Knowles went some way towards allaying their fears, saying: "The Corn Exchange is a unique and vibrant part of the retail scene in Leeds and as landlords we work hard to maximise the potential of this shopping centre in a tough economic environment.

"One of the main attractions of the scheme is the great variety of independent traders who are expert in providing the sort of choice and customer service shoppers cannot find in the conventional High Street."

Traders say footfall has dropped to an all-time low. Nine businesses have closed in the last six months and more are set to leave.

Shops which recently closed include the four-year-old Yumyum Beads, which has relocated to Thorntons Arcade and Brodrick's cafe. Boon womenswear will close in the summer and the 16-year-old Condom Shop is closing in September.

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