WREXHAM town centre will never be the same after the coronavirus pandemic, a council officer has warned.
It follows a sharp reduction in footfall as all but essential businesses have been forced to shut their doors on several occasions as part of national lockdown measures.
A number of high street chains have left the town centre in the wake of the crisis, including H&M, QD Stores, Pizza Express and Frankie & Benny’s.
Debenhams, which occupies one of the flagship units on Eagles Meadow, is also set to close after the brand was sold off to online fashion retailer Boohoo.
Councillors met ( 3 February) to discuss ways of ensuring the viability of the main shopping area in the long term.
It comes as a master plan is set to be drawn up for the town centre to operate on a smaller footprint to include a mixture of shops, living space and entertainment venues.
Town centre manager Amanda Davies said:
“Twelve months ago, nobody had ever heard of the word coronavirus, never mind anything else.
“But going forward, we are working in town centre management quite closely with other areas, specifically to look at what town’s going to look like post-Covid because it will never be the same.
“We have to do things differently. I’ve mentioned just from Ty Pawb’s perspective, one of the positives is that we’ve done a lot more of our arts online than we potentially would have done if it hadn’t happened.
“Things will change, some shops will go and there are loads of things that will actually happen, but we are working on different things.”
“It’s not a good thing, but it’s happening everywhere and it’s not just exclusive to Wrexham.
“Therefore, we can learn from everybody else in terms of things that work and things that don’t, so that’s what we’re going to try and feed into the master plan.”
A report to members of the employment, business and investment scrutiny committee shows one of the council’s main focuses will be on capitalising on the economic impact of football in the area.
The town recently made global headlines following the news that Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are set to take over Wrexham AFC.
The local authority is also seeking to help entrepreneurs and ensure Wrexham’s transport network is good enough to support the economy.
Cllr Terry Evans, the council’s lead member for economy, said businesses in the area had experienced mixed fortunes during the pandemic.
“There are many businesses that have done well in this lockdown and throughout the pandemic like JCB, Moneypenny and Net World Sports to name a few.
“All these have been employing new local people from Wrexham, as well as many small businesses that have bucked the trend and have been doing well
“Non-essential, tourism and night-time economy have been hit the hardest.
“Only last night, Rachel (Cupit, town centre management) and myself attended the Wrexham Business CIC group.
“They were saying many businesses in the town are struggling as the town is dead because footfall is down by around about 100,000 per week.
“They’re trying to adapt their businesses by doing home deliveries and takeaways.”
Cllr Bill Baldwin, the vice-chair of the committee, asked whether any consideration had been given to converting empty shops in Eagles Meadow for cultural use.
An idea put forward by the Little Acton representative was for one of the units to be used as a theatre.
Regeneration manager Rebeccah Lowry said it was an option the council could look into alongside the owners of the shopping centre.
“I have been in contact with the agents from Eagles Meadow as they’re obviously concerned about their vacant properties.
“Andrew (officer) has been in contact with them, not specifically about that use, but we can take that back.
“They will be coming with some proposals, or we have asked them to, as to what they consider the repurposing of Eagles Meadow needs to be.
“Obviously, we can all see, without there being any confidentiality issues, that their units are becoming vacant.”
Councillors agreed at the end of the meeting that more work needed to be done to consider what the future of the town centre will look like once the pandemic is over.
They also supported Cllr Baldwin’s suggestion of approaching the owners of Eagles Meadow to see whether empty stores could be brought back into use for cultural purposes.