WHEN the department store Lewis’s opened for the first time in September 1932, nobody questioned that Leeds was the premier retail destination outside London.
To shoppers of the Depression era, the giant store on the Headrow was an Aladdin’s Cave of delights, offering pure escapism. It was dubbed The Wonder Store of the North and that proved to be no idle boast.
Today, the iconic building is providing work for around 1,500 people as it embraces businesses that have flourished in the digital era.
The latest company to move into the majestic building - now known as Broad Gate - is LifeSearch, the life-insurance protection intermediary, which means it is now fully let.
It marks an incredible comeback for the building, which was in its pomp during the 1960s.
It escaped the bulldozers that destroyed many buildings from its era, and became Allders in 1996.
There were fears for its future when Allders closed the store in 2005. Although its days as a department store are gone, the building has been transformed into Broad Gate, a high profile commercial property development.
The Leeds office of Knight Frank has brokered one of the most significant office deals in Leeds this year, with the letting of the final 10,814 sq ft of space at Broad Gate on behalf of owners Northwood Regional UK.
LifeSearch is moving into Broad Gate from nearby Capitol House in Bond Street. LifeSearch has signed a 10-year lease, with a five-year break, paying £25 per sq ft.
Eamon Fox, the partner and head of office agency at Knight Frank, said: “This is a very important deal. It also means that Broad Gate is now fully let once again.”
The 300,000 sq ft flagship mixed-use development has four floors of Grade A office space and a suite of penthouse offices, together with four retail units.
Mr Fox added: “Broad Gate is one of the finest office developments in Yorkshire. The excellent location, overlooking The Headrow, creates a business destination with all the benefits of the city centre on its doorstep. The transformation of this historic building has provided a unique opportunity to take some of the most remarkable space in the city centre.”
Occupiers in Broad Gate include KPMG, Yorkshire Building Society, Cap Gemini, Colliers, PURE Offices and Ramboll Environ.
Hannah Eborall of LifeSearch, which has around 100 staff in Leeds, said: “LifeSearch asks its people to put their customers first, so it’s right that we should do the same for our team in Leeds. We look forward to moving in later this year. It is an exciting move for us as we look to grow our team in Leeds.”
There have been concerns that confidence in the commercial property market has been harmed by the recent referendum vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union.
Commenting on the impact of Brexit, Mr Fox said: “Undoubtedly, the pause button was pressed for a week or two after the EU referendum result, but we are dealing with it well, I believe.
“While ‘live’ known occupier requirements are approximately 50 per cent of what they typically are, we are seeing more credible requirements from occupiers, and good traction to get deals done.
He continued: “I would say sentiment is surprisingly strong with occupiers.”
Mr Fox said that the second half of 2016 had started well, with Knight Frank involved with £43.7m of office investment transactions in Leeds.
FOR thousand of shoppers, a trip to Lewis’s department store in Leeds was the perfect antidote to the dark days of the 1930s and 1940s.
Building work on the store began in November 1930, as the world reeled from the consequences of the stock market crash.
The giant department store opened two years later, and was hailed as the finest building of its kind in the provinces.
The store was extended in several phases between 1932 and 1938. The building still stands proudly as The Broad Gate development. Knight Frank and Colliers are joint letting agents on Broad Gate.