Coventry’s former British Home Stores building is set to taken over by a new tenant it has been revealed.
The large British Home Stores (BHS) building on the corner of the Upper Precinct and Smithford Way has been empty since it closed in the summer of 2016.
There has been ongoing speculation over the former department store being taken over by a new tenant – or tenants – but so far nothing concrete had emerged.
Now Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for jobs and regeneration has revealed that contracts have been exchanged and an announcement on the building’s future is not far off.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle revealed the move during a walkabout tour of Coventry city centre with CoventryLive to showcase the many improvement works that are taking place to transform the city centre.
Cllr O’Boyle said: “Contracts have been exchanged between the company which owns the BHS building and a retailer.”
He added: “I think they are just finalising details but we are confident the deal is done and they will come in and start trading – once they have done what they need to get done to the building and had it fitted-out.”
Cllr O’Boyle said while he was not able to reveal who the new tenant is he is sure people will be “impressed” – describing them as “a high end retailer”.
He added: “They are a high end retailer – I think people will be really impressed and it will bring this frontage back to life.
“The building has been empty for a number of years.”
Cllr O’Boyle said that difficulties in securing a new tenant had been presented by the fact that Historic England had classified the building – and its canopies in particular – as Grade II-listed in 2018.
Following negotiations the canopies have been removed.
“They (Historic England) agreed it was the right thing for them to be removed,” Cllr O’Boyle said.
“It is going to bring the building back to life – city centres are to be used, not looked at and admired.”
Speaking about the wider improvement works going on in the city centre, he added: “We are trying to bring the city centre back to life – if we sat and did nothing it would have carried on dying.”
The deal is set to bring an end to the long-running saga of who might take over the British Home Stores building.
In 2018 there was talk two national retail chains bidding to take over the store, but no announcements were ever made, and the building continued to sit empty.
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In July 2019 CoventryLive reported that two major retailers and a building society were being lined up to move in.
The update, originally reported by the BBC, was speculative but suggested discount store B&M, clothing retailer Matalan and the Coventry Building Society could open units at the site.
More than 11,000 British Home Stores employees lost their jobs after the department store chain collapsed into administration in April 2016.
There were BHS outlets in Coventry, Nuneaton, Stratford and Solihull.
Listed building status
In October 2018 the Coventry BHS store was granted Grade II-listed status by Historic England, who described it as “an accomplished post-war commercial building which has clear group value with the other structures of the Upper and Lower Precinct in Coventry”.
The store was designed by Art Deco architect George Coles, (1884-1963) who was one of Britain’s pioneers of cinema design. The Odeon chain had many cinemas built according to Coles’ plans.
In 1950, Coles took on design plans for British Homes Stores, then the lynchpin of the high street, and the BHS on the Upper Precinct was built by 1955.
It was recognised as a prominent part of the pedestrianised precinct, the first car-free parade in Britain.