THE long-awaited opening of the Victoria Gate development will be as emotional as his wedding day, says the new general manager behind the £165 million project.
James Bailey has been at the helm for a year since coming on board from other major developments elsewhere in the country including Cabot Circus in Bristol and Highcross at Leicester.
But, he says the Victoria Gate opening is the pinnacle of his 18-year career and working on one of the biggest developments Leeds city centre has seen for years, and with Hammersons again, is too good an opportunity for him to miss.
“John Lewis have been trying to come to Leeds for 30 years and never managed to secure the site,” he said.
“I have been involved just over a year but this is the third opening I have done.
“This was too much of a career highlight to not get involved again and the opportunity to come back was too good. It is the most amazing thing you can do.”
Despite a week of 3am finishes and 8am starts while the finishing touches are being put to Victoria Gate and its flagship partner store, John Lewis, James told City Buzz that this was the week everyone had been working towards.
He said: “It is a really exciting week and is a transitional period in that construction work is still going on but retail staff are on site kitting out stores .
“We are bringing in arctic after arctic lorries of merchandise. We have £20 million worth of stock on site ready to go.
“I can’t put it into words and when I think about my career highlights, I have no doubt this will surpass that.
“Opening day can be quite emotional. You have all this time developing these schemes but it does not come to life until the customers come in.
“It is like your wedding day, emotional, people there, very exciting and you have to take a moment and stand back.
It is also no accident that Victoria Gate, opening the doors at 10am on Thursday, does so with just over eight weeks to go until Christmas.
It prime time for sales, generation of footfall and James says that for him and the team, the hard work starts from next Thursday until Christmas.
For his team, Victoria Gate has created a total of well over 1000 jobs - 550 of which are in John Lewis alone.
The Hamersons development has also brought independent and chain retailers - many of whom are opening their first branches in Leeds.
It is further confirmation, say retail industry experts, that the resurgence of Leeds is continuing to boom.
And while Victoria Gate and John Lewis undoubtedly want their own books to look good, it is not lost on anyone what the knock on effects of the development will be.
James said: “Leeds is a fantastic city that is really going places.
“We hear of it being the retail capital of the north but it is the capital of the north.
“There is a real sense of everybody working together and positivity about what it going on and that gives everyone great confidence.
“I have not heard one negative comment and there is real excitement about John Lewis and the new stores.
“There is such a buzz in the city and I feel incredibly proud to be part of it.”