Mike Wolfe: The tale of two new cinemas was the stuff of pure fiction
MULTI-SCREEN cinemas have become all the rage in the past few years with one venue showing up to 20 films in auditoriums of all shapes and sizes.
Until The Sentinel's investigations unearthed what was really going on, it appeared as though Stoke-on-Trent was heading for not just multi-screens, but multi-cinemas.
The 'shopping centre wars' were apparently going to spawn a multi-screen cinema at each end of our city centre. We now know that just one operator, Vue is in fact interested in getting in to one site in Hanley.
Neither set of developers are aware of other operators so, despite earlier suppositions, there is no plan for two cinemas.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
What this big screen battle gives us is a fascinating and rare insight into the workings of property developers. If you are a developer of shopping centres your customers are not the punters who will one day trudge from Primark to Topman in search of bargains. For a developer, the customers are the stores who will rent space once the centre is built.
Retailers use their shop window to attract the crowds on a Saturday afternoon.
Similarly, the developer knows how to attract the estates departments of the big stores to a site that might offer a new retail opportunity.
Part of making a shopping centre attractive is having the right neighbours. Nobody wants to open a shop in an empty street and everyone would like to be next to the really popular outlets where footfall is greatest.
Shopkeepers create displays which may not be real but make their products appear attractive. In just the same way developers make their sites attractive with a mixture of promise and illusion.
The tale of the two cinemas was just such a sleight of hand. Our friends at both ends of the city centre were trying to attract food outlets or stores to sign up for their new development in the hope that one of their neighbours would be Vue. Once the promise of a popular new location becomes believed by enough investors then it can proceed to the next stage which is the bank.
In the bank managers office, the developer is hoping to demonstrate that there are enough good tenants signed up to take leases on the proposed development to make it worth a loan. Getting finance is more difficult today than for at least 50 years.
With traditionally safe retailers like Comet going bust it is not hard to see why banks don't want to put their already burned fingers too close to the flames of retail investment. So, before finance will be seriously considered, any bank will want to know that all the permissions are in place and that most of the development is pre-let to successful retailers.
What we appear to have learned this week is that the interest so far expressed in the new Sillly Sentral is a long way short of signatures on a lease or binding option agreement.
Vue is probably interested in coming to Hanley (though it might just be expressing an interest to keep competitors away).
It is not, however, ready to make the kind of commitment which would be necessary to persuade a bank to fund a shopping centre.
We were told previously Marks & Sparks would be the anchor tenant for the centre. Apparently that is now unsure. The retailer's recent results were disappointing and a review of the business is underway. Without M&S I expect some of the other interested parties to abandon their investigations.
These are difficult times for retail developers. They are doing their best to make their schemes attractive to retailers and lenders.
I applaud their efforts. However, we must recognise that they make it very difficult for Stoke-on-Trent City Council to evaluate who is really able to progress schemes.
Developers will make bold claims and even apply for ambitious planning permissions.
As the Christmas lights begin to twinkle, council must start evaluating how much of the ambitious talk is window dressing and how much can be relied upon to bring jobs.