A new drive to breathe fresh life into the upper floors of Union Street buildings is being launched by Aberdeen Inspired to help the ongoing campaign to regenerate the Granite Mile.
The city centre Business Improvement District plans will commission a feasibility study to create a snapshot of how many of the floors above street level are unused or underused and how they could be made viable and vibrant again.
Uses to be explored could be a mix of residential, office, arts and culture, leisure, education, health and well-being, as well as retail, hospitality and services.
The aim is to find ways of attracting people and businesses back into the city to help it thrive, said Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired.
“Union Street was created as a place for people to live, to work, to shop and enjoy – it is in the DNA of our main thoroughfare. In its heyday, every building on Union Street was full from the ground level to the uppermost floors and we want to see it that way again,” he said.
Aberdeen Inspired has now been awarded £15,000 in funding from Aberdeen City Council’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund for a feasibility study on the upper floors of Union Street.
This would give an idea of the scale of underused space above ground level, gather insights into potential uses, look at what barriers could stand in the way of regenerating the upper floor spaces, all while building bridges with businesses, building owners, agents and landlords.
That information could then form the bedrock of a strategy for key partners and agencies in the city to work together to tackle the upper floors issue for the wider benefit of Union Street, its businesses and the wider city.
Mr Watson said the upper floors project would dovetail with the ongoing work of Our Union Street – the community-led project which Aberdeen Inspired helped establish – in filling empty units at ground level.
“It is right and proper there is a focus on what is happening at street level on Union Street, but bringing all those upper floors back to life with a mix of uses – especially residential – is just as vital,” he said.
“For any city centre to thrive it needs people living there, facilities and attractions for those residents and an attractive mix of uses that will bring people into the heart of Aberdeen.
“No one underestimates the challenges involved but this study would at least give us a clear idea of what those challenges are and what the route might be to meeting them.”
The feasibility study would be led by town and city centres specialist Iain Nicholson MIPM, founder of The Vacant Shops Academy.
Mr Nicholson said: “The amount of un- and under-used space on high street upper floors is an issue for town and city centres around the country, and it’s great to see Aberdeen taking a lead with this approach to exploring solutions.
“If we can overcome the barriers to getting those spaces back into use, there are benefits both in terms of the vitality of the place and the economics of property. It’ll help us to reduce the number of vacant units but also, by reducing wasted space above occupied ground floor units, bring in more people who’ll become customers for our new and existing businesses.
“The challenge is that it’s often not easy either commercially or practically to re-purpose and re-use these upper floors because of things like access, layout, lighting, storage and waste, especially where the buildings are listed.
“This project will mean Aberdeen understands exactly what the challenges are for its Union Street properties so that the Council, Aberdeen Inspired, Our Union Street and other potential partners can work, strategically, with landlords, agents, businesses, our community and potential new occupiers on a way forward.”
Meanwhile, Mr Watson said these are difficult times for Union Street and the upcoming closure of Marks and Spencer at St Nicholas Street shows how much work is still to be done there.
He added: “That said, there are many groups and organisations now striving tirelessly towards making Union Street what it could and should be – the jewel in the crown of Aberdeen.”