Tourist – ‘it’s great you guys won the City of Culture – I’d love a Starbucks coffee or I’d settle for Costa’
Or ‘I need trousers or a skirt’ – where’s the nearest next?
Or – is there a Waterstones here? I’d like a book.
Most town centres of equivalent size in the UK can offer that without that hesitation of having to point to an out of town development.
So, an events led strategy can get you so far, but what experience can your town centre then offer?
Drab high street with a screed of empty shopfronts? A town centre pitched to pound shops and low end businesses?
To raise the image, you raise what’s there and that can only be done through investment.
You create a fund and buy out the landlords of the empty shop buildings located on the High Street. These are pivotal, they lie in the heart of the street scape that you are trying to promote.
You want the corridor from The Abbey to the Coats Memorial Church to be positive and lively and busy.
You want the streets of High Street, Moss Street, New Street and Causeyside Street to complement and offer an opportunity for businesses.
You want the Paisley Centre to work as a retail centre too.
It all did in the past. The locations worked before, they worked prior to Braehead and Silverburn.
So how? It’s great having ideas, but how do you do that.
Localism is talked about as the next direction for shopping. People like quirky and different, but they also flock to their brands.
Wheels turn in terms of what people want from the retail sector, we wanted convenient dry shopping malls with free parking.
We now buy on line as those malls are hell unless you go on a weekday.
Paisley town centre is walkable, the resource of buildings in the centre is there.
Intervention costs money and it takes a willingness to accept the scale of the problem.
Yes, there would be a capital cost in buying and updating buildings that have been out of use for a number of years and yes, there’s a risk to be borne by buying building and converting them.
What though is the risk of you do not? The fabric will deteriorate further, the risks are fully in the hands of investor owners who got stung once people voted with their petrol to go elsewhere.
The market itself hasn’t solved this problem. It was an issue before the Credit Crunch and even with a fragile recovery, there’s not much hope that things will fix themselves.
But, demographics are demographics, there’s almost half the population of Scotland in and around the West of Scotland, there’s 250,000 people in Renfrewshire. There’s 70,000 in Paisley.
Paisley Gilmour Street is one of the busiest stations in Scotland after the Glasgow and Edinburgh terminals.
Glasgow Airport is busier and busier as we keep on hearing.
The demographics stand up, but the retailers and their agents software packages for planning locations notes Glasgow City Centre, the out of town malls.
But, this software follows footfall and travel patterns now, it only changes after developments change town environments.
You aim to be ahead of it and make the change. In a short term period, acquire, modernise and convert the vacant shops into use.
Aim at the retailers that aren’t there. Pester them, show the opportunity, be able to offer a soft lease that gets them in. Give packages that get them in. Offer a skill base in the population, facilities through the local colleges and university to train.
Ask the right people in the right places the right questions.
Take other units and invest in the community with businesses and cafes that give work opportunities to local people that are unemployed.
Use the upper floors of the buildings for training and developing people, have space that you can use for town centre nursery provision or for disabled and elderly people to access.
So, do you go with making the town centre cycle friendly but at the same time use the existing parking resources available and have spaces free at certain times and for certain periods?
Do you give the opportunity to change by investing and by driving through the attractiveness of a walkable or cycling friendly space?
Or hope that leading people in, then hoping they return is the answer.
It’s building on daily activity and habits.
Getting people that use the train station to buy their coffee or book or whatever before they get that train or after they get off it
No easy task or prospect, but with a vision, that can be worked backward into stages and a plan. It is possible.
Demolition isn’t the answer. Retreating to residential only isn’t the answer, yes the market had failed and there’s unique circumstances in a town centre decimated by two nearby malls.
If it can be done, it’s a longer term and more sustainable fix, one that events and can be further built on.
Ask yourself why the top of Byres Road in Glasgow has a Waitrose and a Watersrones next door to each other and look at what it attracts nearby.
Invest and upscale Paisley.