Middlesbrough Council has signed off a £150,000 plus “investment intervention” for Middlesbrough town centre.
The local authority said the cash would support the expansion plans of a key town center business.
However it gave few other specific details with the matter – listed in a council meeting agenda – deemed to be exempt and restricted.
Council chiefs said the investment would help the town center economy and address issues such as anti-social behaviour, which a report described as a “constant source of anxiety” for businesses, residents and visitors.
The spend is also aimed at addressing high rates of vacant properties – about 25% of privately owned properties in the town center are empty with the council seeking alternative uses for empty units to keep the area “active and animated”.
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The report, prepared for its executive member for regeneration, Councilor Eric Polano said urgent action was also required at key gateways, particularly around the Linthorpe Road/Newport Road crossroads, which were adding to poor perceptions of the town.
It said: “While plans are under development for the council-owned House of Fraser building, the vacant Debenhams store and vacant Miss Selfridge building means that three out of four buildings which frame this gateway are vacant and undermining confidence in the town centre.
“Council officers are engaging with businesses and property owners to support new tenancies and alternative uses.”
A multi-million pound Government ‘levelling up’ fund bid is aiming to finance the redevelopment of House of Fraser and also the former Crown pub/ABC cinema building.
Councilor Matt Storey, leader of the council’s Labor group, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service officers had been talking to a company about turning the vacant House of Fraser store into a communal food hall, understood to be one of a few options on the table.
But he said it had an “awkward floor plan” and it would be “very expensive” to repurpose it for another use.
The report described the town center as being in need of “urgent structural changes to its economic landscape” and said the council had already invested about £20m in major town center properties.
More than £14m has been made available through the Government’s Future High Streets Fund, along with £21.9m worth of Town Deal cash to prompt a major shift in the function of the town centre.
The Future High Streets Fund money was used to buy House of Fraser for £1m and the nearby Captain Cook Square shopping area for £8m, with e-sports venue The Wired Lobby opening in the former Peacocks store and a new 14-lane bowling alley ‘Level X’ set for the TJ Hughes site.
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The council also acquired the Cleveland Center in January this year for £12m after it sold for £85m less than six years ago, but despite these large-scale efforts to intervene it has conceded that the scale and scope of the changes required in Middlesbrough town center are “vast”.
It also wants more people to live in the town centre, following a path already trodden by many big cities, with plans including turning the empty Church House tower block on Grange Road into flats.
Speaking at a recent council scrutiny committee meeting, chief executive Tony Parkinson claimed there was a “real momentum” towards generating more confidence in the town centre.
He highlighted successes from ‘Operation Banton’ – a six-week blitz on crime and antisocial behavior in the town center involving the local authority and the police.
Mr Parkinson also described the valuation that had been placed on the empty Debenhams building as “unrealistic” and suggested he wouldn’t be recommending the council should buy that too.