That mysterious slice of city real estate, stretching from behind the old Lewis’ to Newington, bordered by Bold and Renshaw Streets – all six acres of it – is being slowly, very slowly, transformed into ‘the village in the city’ by new owners, Merepark. So what can we expect when it opens? A genuine East Village vibe? A refreshing hotch potch of quirky, independent boutiques, markets, delis and bars?
Wouldn’t that be great? The area has recently seen a much needed filip in the shape of the new Bier bar (from where The Old Ropewalks karaoke once rang out), with music programmed by Ladytron’s Daniel Hunt (“At the moment the music is a slightly offbeat northern soul selection I put together,” he tells us, “…and (Jamaican label) studio1 during the day…”)
We love it. And, in time, the bar will form the outermost edge to the newly planned ‘Newington Square’ development. A far cry from the dusty sidestreet it’s become.
Maybe this is the start of a shift in the Ropewalks’ fortunes. The morning after yet another hideous attack in the area (this time outside Funkybox), where a chap had most of his face bitten off, it’s hard not to hope for an escape route to this warren of increasingly feral streets. We’re praying that Bier is the start of a new Ropewalks renaissance. And that we can have it to ourselves for a while.
Odd to think, isn’t it, that English Heritage turned down Merepark’s original plans to have a couple of landmark towers in the development. No, they said – we don’t want them to overshadow, and despoil, the historic character of the Ropewalks. Make ’em smaller.
Really? And mutilation – as long as it’s at street level – is fine? Unfortunately, life isn’t like an artist’s impression: it’s not all happy smiling couples, laughing, weighed down with designer bags, as they leave Subway. The area is in need of help. And fast. Maybe Central Village, by lifting the lid off the pressure cooker a little, will be its salvation.
Sadly, first impressions of Central Village are less homespun and more, well, more Liverpool ONE: the next chapter.
Architecturally, there’s nothing to see here. A split level mall, a brise soleil, a sheer wall of featureless facades coaxed into an optical illusion of interest with angular tetris blocks of alternating colours. Jaunty pilotis, lined up like excessive exclamation marks. But no-one’s laughing.
Villages don’t look like this. Where’s the vernacular? The local stone? A cultural or historical context? Oh, the water. I guess that’s a nod to its location at least. Take a look at the dreamy simulation (above) and smell the village bustle.
Rumours were floating round that Lewis’s would contain a Liverpool branch of Hard Rock Cafe. They’ve been squashed by the chain – which, to be fair, is in something of a retreat, closing down branches across the country. Is that a big deal? Not really. Their burgers are good. Er, its walls would be full of Beatles guitars and Dead or Alive wigs. We can cope without it.
Merepark are spending around £200 million developing Lewis’s and the ground to the rear – including the addition of a spruce new waterway, lots of public space and a nice boardwalk. All of which we’re sure will be a positive addition to this end of town.
But we do worry when we see the list of confirmed new tenants. Merepark’s Neal Hunter says: “The £200m Central Village scheme continues to attract strong interest from potential tenants across the retail and leisure sectors.There are currently a number of potential new tenants in legal and preliminary talks with Merepark. Some of the brands currently signed up to the scheme include anchor tenant ODEON, which will be opening its second cinema complex in the city, Adagio apartment-hotel, Handmade Burger Co, (‘pan-Asian restaurant’) Cosmo, Frankie & Benny’s, Chiquito and Prezzo.”
ODEON, fine. The Liverpool ONE branch is something of a war zone on Saturday evenings, so anything to dilute the Judd Apatow brigade is fine with us. The rest? So far, so blah.
We’ve got to wait until 2013 for the development to open. Let’s hope that, in the next 12 months or so, some inspired touches – and not too many me-too chains, really give the city’s independent quarter the help (and cash injection) it needs to thrive. Bold Street is increasingly looking like an island outpost of original and city-grown retail. If Central Village helps shift our Saturday afternoons a little more uptown, we’re very much on side.
But let’s not forget. We’ve already got (and love) Liverpool ONE. We don’t need Liverpool TWO.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be trying to untangle the Ropewalks – speaking to residents, licensees, councillors and traders about their hopes and fears, and plans for the future. And we’d like to hear your views too…