Creating a post-pandemic city centre
The regeneration of Swansea city centre is one of the largest urban transformations currently being delivered in the UK. Over £1 billion is being invested across the city, with a view to raise the profile of the Welsh city to become one of the most vibrant places to live, work, visit and study in the UK.
With the pandemic having emphasised the importance of mixed-use high streets, including the increased need for leisure and public spaces for the entire community to enjoy, the first phase of Swansea’s Copr Bay project, driven by the Council’s vision, aims to show the way forward for town and city centres across the UK in a post-pandemic world.
The leisure-led, £135 million Copr Bay phase one is the first stage of the reimagining of the city, centred around a new arena run by a world leading operator of live entertainment venues. Cllr Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea Council, says that Copr Bay has been a major catalyst for change since the works began.
“The leisure and F&B-led scheme is anchored around a 3,500-capacity live performance arena and conference centre, operated by The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG),” tells Stewart. “It includes a striking new pedestrian and cyclist bridge that better connects the city to its sweeping coastline; a landscaped coastal part with a 1,500 sq ft café and pizzeria; and over 8,000 sq ft of other F&B space encompassing a range of independent cafés, restaurants and shops.”
The ‘game-changing’ Swansea Arena is expected to host 160 performances across music, comedy, theatre, esports and conference events for an estimated 230,000 visitors each year.
The space has been designed so that it can host a broad range of live performance and entertainment, bringing new audiences to the city whilst providing local people with global entertainment on their doorstep. And around 60 of the events will be exhibitions, conferences, graduations, and other business-led events.
Phase one is scheduled to open later this autumn, and is creating around 1,260 construction jobs, with hundreds more long-term jobs will come when it’s operational and which Stewart says will add tens of millions of pounds to the local economy every year.
Eat out to help out
In a recent step towards its community-focused ambitions, Swansea Council announced that local family-owned restaurant group The Secret Hospitality Group will run a day-to-night service at the 1,400 sq ft restaurant and café. The venue has dubbed itself as an environmentally friendly and architecturally eye-catching venue where residents and visitors will enjoy a relaxed café by day and a buzzing pizzeria by night.
The Secret Hospitality Group’s newest restaurant is due to open towards the end of the year and has full capacity for 60 covers plus outside seating. The family-run and locally-based restaurant group is owned and run by Ryan and Lucy Hole, who also own The Secret Beach Bar & Kitchen and The Optimist Bar & Kitchen, both in Swansea. The newest restaurant in the group will join the others by having its produce supplied by local businesses, further supporting the Swansea economy.
Sustainability is at the heart of the restaurant, which has been designed by Pinelog, a member of the Green Register, to feature materials from sustainable sources and local provenance. The restaurant’s design is focused on renewable energy to lower carbon emissions and uses solar panels to contribute to the power requirements, to minimise its environmental footprint.
Owner Ryan Hole says that whilst it might seem an odd decision to commit to a new restaurant during the pandemic, they did not think twice when this opportunity came knocking. “Swansea Council’s £1 billion transformation of the city is a vote of confidence in the future of the area and will offer opportunities to people like us and businesses like ours,” he explains.
“Our latest restaurant will be a new landmark for Swansea, part of a brand new destination for residents and visitors to enjoy great food and drink, and just a stone’s throw away from the Arena and our stunning coastline. We’re thrilled to be a part of the transformation of our city and to play a part in it.”
The regeneration was announced back in 2019, but rather than causing a complete rethink of what a post-pandemic city centre should be, it vindicated the vision for the city the council had already been planning, which Stewart says has become more significant than ever.
“Our vision for the regeneration, and Copr Bay phase one in particular, has been one that is leisure-led, sustainability-focused, and local-first,” says Stewart. “Each part of this is so important in creating vibrant city centres, places where people want to live, study, work, shop and visit in a post-pandemic world and is vital if we want to build back better and create investment in our communities.”
Copr Bay phase one, which is being delivered by the Council working alongside development manager RivingtonHark, the town and city centre regeneration specialists, has community at its heart. It has previously announced that the 33 new homes being built as part of the scheme, in an enviable location near the arena and the coastal park, will be run by Wales’ largest social housing provider, Pobl Group.
Future phases will be driven by Swansea Council, with Copr Bay phase two and further regeneration projects across the city, set to kick off in the near future. Stewart says that Copr Bay phase one has focused on creating a new leisure district for the city, helping better connect the city to the sea and building new affordable homes. The next phase in the wider regeneration will look at further F&B, retail, housing and workspaces.
“We want to show that there’s a bright post-pandemic future for high streets across the UK – and that Swansea will emerge as a wonderful, modern, attractive, 21st century destination,” Stewart adds.
“The council-led regeneration of Swansea is about much more than the bricks and mortar; it’s about jobs, opportunities and securing a positive future. It’s about creating a unique and memorable place to live, work and enjoy – to the benefit of the people and businesses of our city and those who plan to visit us or make Swansea their home.”
This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.