EDWARD Ziff was four years old when the Merrion Centre opened on his mother’s birthday in May 1964.
The Leeds shopping centre was the biggest of its kind in the UK - a claim it held for only a few days before the Bull Ring opened in Birmingham in the same week.
Fifty years later, Mr Ziff is chief executive and chairman of Town Centre Securities, the Merrion Centre’s owner and the company his late father, Arnold, founded in 1959.
Initially, Merrion was home to a number of upmarket retailers including Chelsea Girl, which became River Island, and Fosters Menswear. But over the years it gradually changed to focus on value-for-money retailers, which today include Morrisons, Superdrug and Home Bargains.
In 2013, more than 10.6 million visitors flocked to the million square foot Merrion Centre and it is making a record amount of money.
“I think it’s fair to say that Merrion has never been worth more money than it is today in spite of the fall off in property values over the last four or five years,” said Mr Ziff. “That’s because we’re collecting more rent than ever before.”
He added: “We know exactly who we appeal to in terms of socio-economic classes and I think our tenants recognise that and our prospective tenants recognise that.
“We’re about 97 per cent let and when we have voids we find that we can identify quite readily potential tenants who might fill the empty shops.”
The arrival of Leeds Arena last year was a major boost for Merrion.
Mr Ziff said: “The arrival of the arena has been a fantastic opportunity for us.
“It fills our car park on arena nights, when the car park would usually be empty, and what it has allowed us to do is develop the whole of the northern front of the Merrion Centre.”
The next part of the development is the refurbishment of the car park, which is likely to happen in two separate phases to enable the car park to remain open during building work.
The work will transform both the inside and outside, adding another set of circulation ramps to enable cars to get in and out more quickly.