Latest News | 24 April 2024

Can 2025 be Derby’s olympic year?

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2024 is going to be a momentous year for Paris as the French capital hosts the XXXIII Olympic Games.

Ten years ago, a new Mayor – Anne Hidalgo – was elected on a radical environmental ticket of transforming  the city of light into a greener, more attractive place. Cages might have been rattled but progress appears to have been made.

Already, the noxious central Paris traffic has been reduced and space been given to pedestrians, cyclists, as well as rest and play areas. Much of the expressway beside the river Seine – a nightmare cross-town racing track as featured in a famous Bourne Identity chase scene – has been converted into pleasant walkways and even the Paris Plage beach.

Once again, Paris becomes home of the flaneur.

Now, as the clock counts down to July, when the global eyes will be on the city, the Mayor is rolling out the final decorations and dressings to reclaim the title Paris so, so desires – that of the World’s Best City (currently held by London much to the chagrin of Parisians).

Paris is not alone.

The past 100-years has seen a trend where cities hosting major sporting events (Olympics yes, but also Commonwealth Games, World Cups and Super Bowls as examples) use the occasion to project a positive image by ensuring a pleasant experience for visitors.

I remember London having a distinctly different vibe over those warm weeks in the summer of 2012 (including the unusual sight of Olympic Changemakers handing out ice creams at St Pancras station).

I wish Paris ‘bon chance’ but my attention now turns to Derby…and I am asking this, could we be about to host our own Olympic year in 2025?

Ash Morris, Repton’s director of swimming, said: “This is a proud moment for Repton – Eva is the first ever swimming pupil to qualify for an Olympic Games.

You may remember Derby made an unsuccessful bid to be the UK City of Culture (congratulations Bradford, 2025 is yours) but I bet few of you will remember that 2025 was also the targeted end-year for the city’s first masterplan by the government supported Urban Regeneration Company (URC), Derby Cityscape.

This 20-year plan anticipated many of the changes required to create a vibrant city centre.

What it couldn’t know was the triple whammy coming down the line – the 2008 market crash, the growth of online shopping and the Covid lockdowns of 2020/21 – all of which desolated many city centres across the world.

And yet, could 2025 be our year?

I’m not referring to a particular sporting occasion but I’m thinking that many of the schemes and developments crucial to the repurposing of Derby city centre will come to fruition next year.

The repurposing agenda is generally seen as having three constituents: more people living, working and visiting city centres. To these, I always add a fourth, that of the experience of a city centre.

Last year Derby City Council, supported by many partners including Marketing Derby, approved a new Ambition which recognised the challenges mapped out above and called for radical transformation.

2025 could be its first staging post.

Take the issue of city living, something led by cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

Suddenly something, that only a few short years ago seemed unrealistic and practically unachievable is blossoming. Derby city centre has become a destination of choice with hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in building new homes.

The astonishing pace of development in areas such as the Nightingale Quarter (the old DRI site, now almost completed by Wavensmere Homes) and Castleward (the large area between the train station and Derbion being built by Compendium Living and Elevate) is being supplemented across town in new student schemes (as evidenced by the cranes on Agard St) and numerous ‘above the shop’ conversions.

The confidence expressed by London-based Grainger PLC in their Build-to-Rent 259-apartment scheme on the site of the old Debenhams department store has been rewarded as it quickly fills to capacity.

So, from a standing start, Derby has suddenly become a hotspot for city living with over 7,000 homes completed, under construction or in the planning pipeline – meaning 5,000 people living in DE1 by 2025, a figure likely to double in the next 5-years.

The desire to see more people working in the centre has been a much tougher ask.

Pride Park, which hosts over 1,000,000 sq ft of office space (with 10,000 workers) understandably remains a prime address for many.

To attract office occupiers into the centre the offer is going to have to be something very different from the drive-up, park-outside-the-door business park experience. The idea of a Grade-A office quarter (as once planned for Traffic St) is dead though I believe a top-quality city centre office building would still attract top-quality tenants.

Generally though, city centre offices are going to be small to medium sized conversions of empty historic buildings – of which Derby has plenty.

The good news is that many of the companies likely to be seeking central offices want exactly that – think of the Cubo conversion of the Post Office HQ, the Pax 8 nightclub conversion on the Wardwick or the Tram Sheds on St James St. Entrepreneurial investors like Staton Young are delivering what the customer wants and the city needs.

These, and others, have the capacity to host the company of the future – funky, flexible and hybrid with young, talented, mobile workers.

Complementing this is the University of Derby’s new Business School, a £70m complex currently under construction and slated to open in 2025. Forming a second stage in the planned city centre campus, the school will attract 6,000 students and workers, as well as becoming a city centre hub for businesses.

The third repurposing element – that of visiting the city – really does stand to take a significant step-up in 2025.

Two Derby City Council funded schemes – the Performance Venue and Market Hall – have the potential to be gamechangers.

The 3,600-capacity state-of-the-art Performance Venue – part of St James Securities Becketwell scheme – will be operated by ASM Global (look them up, they are world leaders and operate over 350 venues in London, Manchester, Rotterdam and New Orleans).

The Market Hall rediscovers one of the city’s best Victorian buildings and promises to host much more than a market – food, art, events and pop-ups.

These two initiatives stand to attract over 500,000 people into the city centre – many of whom will be newcomers or having not visited since the lockdown.

There may be no opening ceremony but 2025 will be the year that many people chose to give Derby a chance. We must ensure their experience is pleasant and one they wish to repeat.

If the purpose of a city is to create and sustain a customer, 2025 is our Olympic chance to shine.

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