Merrion Centre, Leeds
The southern entrance of the Merrion Centre, as of 5 May 2007
|Location||Leeds city centre, Leeds, England|
|Opening date||1964, 2008 (Refurbished from a fire)|
|Closing date||June 2007 (Old centre closed from a fire)|
|Owner||Town Centre Securities (formerly Leeds City Council)|
|No. of stores and services||90|
|Total retail floor area||800,000 ft² including none retail areas.|
|No. of floors||2 (main retail area only) The centre has 20 floors of office space.|
The Merrion Centre in Leeds, England, is a shopping centre opened in 1964. From construction to the present day the centre has been owned and managed by Town Centre Securities. Originally open air, the centre had since had a roof installed during the 1970s onwards. It is an early example of a mixed-use development including offices, car parking, retail (including a Morrisons supermarket) and entertainment including a bowling alley, a nightclub and several public houses. Currently most retail in the centre is aimed more towards the budget end of the market which means the centre is especially popular with working-class people and students. The Merrion Market area featured a range of independent stalls, shops and cafés ranging from mainstream but downmarket to idiosyncratic, but it has been closed to make room for The New Front, an area backing onto the arena which contains restaurants, cafès and leisure facilities.
The centre had originally included an Odeon Cinema when it opened, however this closed in 1977 following a screening of Gone with the Wind. It remains empty and unused to this day only opening occasionally for events such as Heritage Open Days. The cinema inside is notable in the fact that other than the removal of the seating, it is unchanged since closing with original operating manuals and film posters in place and is admired by fans of 1960s and 1970s culture. The ground floor entrance is opposite the entrance to Morrisons and has been blocked up and replaced with cash machines.
One of the nightclubs within The Merrion Centre was the now-legendary 'Bar Phono' originally known as Le Phonographique, widely reputed to be the birthplace of the Gothic subculture. A pillar was located in the middle of the dancefloor which is what caused the unique goth two steps forward two steps back dance.
The former Barclays Bank on the front of the Merrion Centre has since been converted into 'Oceana', which has become a popular Leeds nightclub.
As of Summer 2016, The Merrion Centre is undergoing major refurbishment. The western side of the centre is being extended to accommodate new refurbished council offices, as well as new restaurants and retail units. New tenants have moved in such as a new Sainsbury's Local, and the centre's Morrisons supermarket has been rebranded to fit the company's new corporate image, with major extension and refurbishment inside.
The centre features one of two examples of Rowland Emett's 'thing', "The Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine", and other several other Centre-owned Emett kinetic sculptures are periodically displayed in the main thoroughfare. There are plaques in the floor at each entrance stating "Private property, no public right of way" to prevent the walkthoughs becoming public footpaths.
Woolworths' relocation to the Merrion Centre, from Briggate (now the House of Fraser) in the early 1990s provided the centre with another major retailer and increased footfall. The Morrisons in the centre is the main supermarket in the city centre and has seen a surge in custom since the building of many city centre flats in the property boom of the 2000s. However most of these are towards the southern end of the city centre, and for them the Morrisons in The Penny Hill Centre, Hunslet is nearer and also offers free parking.
Criticisms of the centre's design
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- It has been commented[who?] that since the centre was fully enclosed in the 1970s, the large open entrances have led to the inner halls becoming something of a wind tunnel.
- The mock Georgian wing of the shopping centre has never been fully occupied since the centre opened, with the positioning of the wing (towards the rear of the shopping centre, down the side of Morrisons) leading to it almost becoming a 'dead mall' at certain times in the centre's history. As of January 2016 this wing has been closed off to allow building work on the western end of the Centre.
- When a smoking ban was first introduced in January 2007 (in all enclosed areas except the public houses), the ban was largely ignored. The experience of 2009 suggests that the ban is now fully observed throughout the Centre.
- The entrance onto Merrion Street (probably the most used one) has a fairly steep ramp, making access difficult for some elderly and disabled customers, as well as in wet weather.
- The sunken square at the western end of the centre has been a largely unused space since the subway closed in 2000. For many years this had two outdoor escalators, although they soon fell into disrepair after their installation in the early 1970s, and stood for many years unused. They were fenced off for public safety and, in 2007, they were replaced with steps. The square has been closed off since early 2016 to allow building works.
- When opened in 1964, the Yorkshire Evening Post said the centre emulated what every successful large town and city wanted to build.
- The centre offers a great deal of variety, boasting a supermarket, many high street shops, a market hall (closed as of 2013), a hotel, several pubs, bars and a night club as well as a bowling alley and a great deal of office space. The centre offers basic amenities to many in nearby residential areas such as Lovell Park and Little London.
The future of the Centre
Much of The Merrion Centre remains almost unchanged since its construction. With many other cities renovating their equivalents of The Merrion Centre (the reconstruction of the Bullring, Birmingham, the Arndale Centre in Manchester being partially rebuilt and Eldon Square in Newcastle Upon Tyne being renovated), Leeds city centre's largest shopping centre was beginning to look dated.
- The Merrion Centre had a subway which linked it to the Woodhouse Lane Car Park, Millennium Square and Leeds Metropolitan University. This however has been closed since 2000 with the subway being used as a storage area for Millennium Square events. It is possible to look down into it from Claypit Lane - from here billboards for Morrisons, Kellogg's Frosties and Radio Times dating from the early 90s can be seen.
Since the pedestrianisation of Briggate and the opening of new shopping centres such as Victoria Quarter, Trinity Leeds and The Light, the Merrion Centre has seen a transition from high-end retail chains to more utilitarian and functional chains. The main anchor tenant is Morrisons. Other large retailers within the complex include Birthdays, Poundstretcher, Wilkinson, Superdrug and The Works.
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