IT'S a barren patch of wasteland in the heart of Southampton that has been earmarked for Olympic sized ice rinks, supercasinos and conference centres over the past decade.
Now the long delayed redevelopment of the four-acre site next to the WestQuay shopping centre has been given a new lease of life - with the prospect of up to 1,000 jobs.
After previous its plans were stalled by the recession, WestQuay's joint owners Hammerson have signed a four-year agreement with the council to deliver a “landmark restaurant and leisure quarter”.
The leisure-led scheme, dubbed Watermark WestQuay, will include flagship restaurants, a luxury cinema , shops and apartments with landscaped plaza set against the city's historic medieval walls.
It will be the biggest commercial development planned for Southampton since the shopping centre was built in 2000.
Hammerson said the scheme would complement its neighbouring shopping centre, introducing new brands to the city and would create a “vibrant night time economy”.
There had been fears the project, given outline planning consent three years ago, had been mothballed. It has been overtaken in recent years by other Hammerson projects in Leeds and Sheffield.
But Hammerson insists it has been testing the market over the past year and will work on a revised masterplan for fresh designs to be put out to public consultation by the end of the year.
The development is one of the seven “very important projects” in a council masterplan which aims to bring 20,000 new jobs and £3 billion of new investment to the city over the next 25 years.
The announcement, days before Hammerson releases its annual results, comes as the WestQuay shopping centre is undergoing a £7m refurbishment of its food terrace.
Guy Wells, development manager for Hammerson, said: “The location of Watermark is really quite unique. The town walls mean we already have a fantastic starting point for the new masterplan and we intend to create a scheme which makes the most of this special site and delivers a landmark restaurant and leisure quarter in Southampton.
“We know there is strong demand from restaurant and leisure brands from our letting success with the food terrace extension and we look forward to bringing more new names to the city.”
Business leaders welcomed the news.
Hampshire Chamber chief executive Jimmy Chestnutt said the delays had been frustrating but said the council was right to give Hammerson more time.
“The fact Hammerson have not walked away or had cold feet is a good sign and good news for the city. I'm sure they will start works as soon as they think its financially sensible. In the end it will get built, there will be jobs, and it will it will enhance that part of the city and the waterfront.”
Council leader Richard Williams said: “It is good news that Hammerson is still looking positively at moving forward with its plans for the Watermark West Quay development - despite the difficult economic climate and Southampton City Council is looking forward to seeing the revised plans.”
The news comes as a number of stalled developments are revived in the city following the recession, including the completion of apartments and a new luxury hotel at Ocean village and a new Morrisons supermarket in East Street.
Morgan Sindall Investments is also working up plans for a huge £450m redevelopment of the Royal Pier waterfront.
Hammerson said it would submit a planning application will in early 2013 for work to start on site in the spring of 2014. The first phase could be completed by spring 2016.