REVEALED: £1m revamp of Preston's Harris Quarter to attract more visitors to the city
Preston’s Harris Quarter is set to become the home of a rolling programme of pop-up events and activities designed to tempt people into the city centre.
The museum and markets area will stage the attractions - which could include outdoor cinema screenings, a street food hub and cultural projects.
Digital projectors are also likely to form part of the plans, designed both to be incorporated into specific events and to enhance the wider location.
Several of the projects had formed part of Preston City Council’s bid for £25m from the government’s Towns Fund, which was submitted in July and is still under consideration.
However, the city has now been handed £1m upfront to kickstart individual schemes. The cash will be in addition to any sum that is subsequently granted as part of the overall bid.
A meeting of the authority’s cabinet heard that a long-list of potential investments has been drawn up, which will be whittled down over the next six weeks. All of the proposals are intended to “re-establish the city centre as a safe destination of choice”, according to cabinet papers.
A condition of the government grant is that the money must be spent by the end of the current financial year, which means that the necessary works should be completed by next spring.
A report presented to cabinet members reveals that the proposed projects are being designed both with the current coronavirus restrictions in mind – and with an eye to Preston’s post-Covid future.
So while the markets canopy has been identified as a “naturally-ventilated” space for eating and drinking during these socially-distanced times, there is also a proposal for street games, perhaps at a time when the city’s visitors can once again mingle more naturally.
“It’s very difficult to get investment in the current climate and I’m looking forward to getting the project started,” said city council leader Matthew Brown.
“Obviously, our main priority at the moment is supporting communities through Covid, but we have got to think about what’s to come after Covid.
“It’s about trying to make a really welcoming environment for people to come.”
Some of the projects would be more long-term, offering a permanent upgrade to the public realm – but the main focus of the scheme appears to be to provide an ever-changing carousel of attractions to enthral locals and visitors alike.
Cabinet member for culture Peter Kelly predicted that Preston’s creative community will “really jump on board and be enthusiastic about how we use [this area]”.
He added: “It an excellent opportunity to explore the area around the market...in this time of not being able to deliver a number of events due to Covid-19 restrictions.”
However, chief executive Adrian Phillips warned that the authority is “[up] against it timewise” if it is to deliver the project within the government’s tight timeframe.
In order to meet the completion deadline of the end of March 2021, the council has agreed to appoint a third party as project and development managers.
Following the cabinet decision, Maple Grove Developments (MPG) is set to procure and deliver most aspects of the Animate scheme, for a fee of 7.5 percent of the grant - £75,000.
The need for timely decisions meant that the option of the council entering into individual contracts for each element of the project was discounted.
A working group will be established, made up of city council and Lancashire County Council officers, as well as representatives from MPG and UCLan, whose own ongoing public space project could be drawn into the scheme.
That group will now finalise which of the proposed projects will be funded, while responsibility for implementing the programme will be delegated to the city council’s director of development, who will keep key cabinet members informed of progress.
FROM BRIGHT LIGHTS TO THE BASH STREET KIDS: PRESTON’S PLAN FOR A REVAMPED HARRIS QUARTER
Precise locations for the proposed new facilities are yet to be specified in most cases, but the final pick of projects will be selected from the following long-list of options.
Outdoor cinema - screen with seating, viewing and catering areas; initially built to be Covid-compliant, but modifiable if retained long-term.
Flexible events space - demountable stage and events space, with Covid secure seating, for ticketed events or use by educational and community groups.
Bar and street food hub - locally-sourced food and drink in a naturally ventilated setting, potentially beneath the market canopies.
Public art – including a bronze bench designed by Preston-born Wallace and Gromit animator Nick Park. Plus, a Bash Street Kids-themed pavement to mark the city’s role in the creation of the legendary comic strip – creator Leo Baxendale, who went to school in Preston, said the idea came to him as he walked along a street in the city.
Digital lighting - installation of digital projectors, bringing light, colour and artistic creations into the area.
Preston phone boxes revamp – refurbishment of the much-loved line of booths on Market Street for an as-yet-unspecified purpose.
Urban play – installation of street games and play equipment.
Gallery space – creation of a temporary structure in the underused part of the bus station concourse.
'Dynamic' hoardings – installation of the feature in and around the Harris Quarter to “provide interest in what will be an area of change”.
Cycling facilities – provision of bike shelters and a pop-up cycle hub, with stand and lockers.
Public realm improvements - targeted upgrades in various locations
PRESTON'S OTHER BIG PLANS
As part of its wider bid to the Towns Fund, Preston City Council hopes to secure cash to boost a £10.7m plan to completely refurbish the Harris Museum.Planned work includes revealing more of the building’s architecture – and improvements to the library, along with the development of a dedicated children’s space.
Elsewhere in the Harris Quarter cash from the government scheme is being sought to regenerate city council-owned sites for cultural and community purposes, including Amounderness House and the Birley Street Annex, as well as addresses on Lancaster Road.
Separately, work is also continuing on the final phase of the markets quarter development to create a cinema and restaurant complex on the site of the city's former indoor market and multi-storey car park.
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