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Corn Exchange: food for thought

Leah Vigon on the row over the future of the Corn Exchange

Published on March 31st 2008.

Corn Exchange: food for thought

For those of you that choose to remain oblivious to the goings on of the city, The Corn Exchange is about to undergo a dramatic transformation into a ‘stylish’ food emporium.

There has been a bit of a commotion about this, mainly from angst ridden scruffy teenagers who congregate outside the Corn Exchange, looking miserable and shouting, unnecessarily. All this, whilst their middle class parents head off to Marks and Spencer to make sure that their beloved child has something nice for their dinner.

Leeds has become a major success story and a city with such aspirations certainly deserves a world class food centre.

More importantly, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for those independent shop owners who now have to find other premises for their eclectic wears: however we have to be sensible and consider what the Corn Exchange as it now stands offers the residents of Leeds and those who visit the city. How many of us really make a pilgrimage there on a regular basis to buy novelty condoms or glo sticks to take to a rave? And there are many other sites – the arcades – for example where independent retailers can prosper.

A lot of people are talking as though the building is about to be knocked down and that's not the case, it’s just changing its offering. The Corn Exchange is one of Leeds' best loved buildings and perhaps has never been used to its full potential. A food emporium is a good idea. It won’t be filled with the smell of fried chicken or grease, and you may have to pay more than 50p for a sausage roll, but food and good food at that, is increasingly part of our daily ritual. This will be a great opportunity for regional, national and international food producers and retailers to demonstrate some of the finest that they have to offer.

Adrian Johnson of Central Retail, which has been appointed to market the centre to potential operators, comments: "This is an exciting prospect not just for the rejuvenation of Leeds Corn Exchange, but also for the people of Leeds who will benefit from a central destination for premium dining, food and drink. The scheme will serve a very large and diverse regional customer profile, drawing from neighbouring towns and cities as well as the thousands of people that actually live in the city centre. Leeds has become a major success story and a city with such aspirations certainly deserves a world class food centre."

The stoic building recently completed a £1.5 million makeover, and negotiations are now underway with a number of independent local traders and also premium food retailers, who will provide visitors to The Corn Exchange with an opportunity to eat and shop for an exciting range of fresh tastes and flavours from the region and around the world.

Whilst nothing has yet been confirmed, announcements are expected to be made throughout the summer. However, we can reveal that that the lower level of The Corn Exchange will be used for dining, the middle level will be a food hall and the upper level will be used for retail.

Such a place would also have the edge on other regional British cities, as it targets an area which other places such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham (except with fortnightly or monthly Farmers’ Markets and the odd now you see it now you don’t food festival), refuse to target. If you’ve been to London’s Borough market, or Barcelona’s Mercat de la Boqueria, then an idea of what Leeds might gain can be glimpsed.

Of course compared to the disappointing traditional markets in the cities over the Pennines, we still have Kirkgate market. This claims to be one of the largest of its kind in Europe, with lots of meat, fish, fruit and veg, but it’s hardly the most progressive of places, and has all the other stalls as well, clothes and so forth. This mix is part of its charm but it doesn’t mean that a well run modern food hall such as the proposed Corn Exchange is not necessary.

Unfortunately there have been casualties at the Corn Exchange. But what were the chances of those tenants being able to afford the increase in rent that the landlords say are needed to maintain the building? The Corn Exchange is one of the most striking structures in Leeds but it needs a lot of maintenance.

Truth is things change. Craft stalls and bong shops close in one area and move elsewhere, to the next growth area with cheaper rents. For the Corn Exchange to remain a city landmark, and help Leeds assert its retail presence, perhaps change is imperative.

So what is to become of the grouchy teenagers? Well, they’ll grow older and head to university in cities far away, and the Corn Exchange steps will become a watery memory at the bottom of their beer bottle.

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AnonymousMarch 27th 2008.

Apologies, I had to sign up to your website, and it didn't copy my full message (posted above) here is the top part reposted:Basically - you're confusing alternative teens (emo, ska, skateboarders) with Chavs. Chavs and Chavettes never came to the corn exchange because it had steps for skateboarding off, which weren't practical for loud mouth chavettes with their prams.

AnonymousMarch 27th 2008.

But you are right - people will move on to other cities, and Leeds will lose out. Eventually the only teens to be seen in Leeds now are going to be chavs to whom are attracted to wealthy areas (A Delboy Genetic perhaps?) so all I can say to the Zuric Group after evicting the traders is I hope they enjoy this infestation.

NickMarch 27th 2008.

I think it's a great use of the space. Just take a look at Whole Foods in Kensington, London to get an idea of what this place is going to be like. And never forget, with all the apartments being built around Leeds, and the newly prosperous city workers, people will want to have somewhere to shop for good ingredients in the city. We're seriously lacking in city-centre supermarkets for the vast number of people who already live there, and the even greater number due to migrate there. Great idea, be proud of something different!

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