Native Land has exchanged contracts to acquire a c.230,000-sq-ft department store in Guildford town centre, currently occupied by Debenhams, for future redevelopment. The move is a pathfinder initiative for further department store and shopping centre acquisitions by one of the UK’s most innovative placemaking developers.
The acquisition is part of Native Land’s strategy to identify redevelopment opportunities in fundamentally strong UK towns and cities, to reposition retail assets at a time when urban centres are rethinking the future of their high streets amid continued challenges from online retailers.
Native Land will pay vendors M&G Real Estate £20 million for the 1960s building, which is arranged over ground, lower ground and four upper floors. It stands on a prominent 1.4 acre site fronting Millbrook, close to High Street, with dual aspects onto the River Wey.
Debenhams, which has been in administration since April 2020, occupies the building on a long lease with options to break in 2021.
Alasdair Nicholls, Chief Executive of Native Land, said:
“The Debenhams department store in Guildford is a perfect opportunity to unlock the potential of land and buildings, to revitalise urban neighbourhoods. This is especially relevant to town centre locations, where repurposing bricks-and-mortar will ensure sustainable futures. Guildford is an affluent town which is also benefitting from the growing trend in living outside London and working from home.”
Native Land will explore a range of future development options for the asset, including homes for sale and rent together with mixed retail and commercial to unlock and enliven the river frontage. It aims to deploy its experience in delivering world-class places, to further enhance Guildford’s town centre offer.
John Duxbury, head of retail and leisure at M&G Real Estate said:
“The disposal of the Debenhams unit in Guildford town centre is part of M&G’s longer-term active management to repurpose the site. The role of town centres is changing, and the Debenhams unit is the perfect redevelopment opportunity to convert this retail asset for uses which cater for the needs of the local community.”
Native Land has allocated substantial capital for retail repositioning opportunities in London and the South East, as a core strategy within its wider mixed-use development business.
In recent years Native Land has broadened its focus beyond its original business model of prime central London residential development, to pursue mixed-use commercial regeneration projects in response to technological change and market behaviour.
Kieran D Cotter & Co advised Native Land in the Guildford acquisition.