A MAJOR revamp is set to be carried out to the food hall at the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness.
The centre owners announced yesterday they are in talks with potential new operators while they also plan to offer night-time dining at other restaurants facing Falcon Square.
The overhaul, which will see a redesign of the existing centralised seating area in the food court, has been welcomed by city business and civic leaders who say it represents continued confidence in the outlook for the shopping centre and the Highland capital.
Elsewhere in the city centre, a wave of developments particularly in the hospitality sector have been completed or are in the pipeline.
Scoop Asset Management (AM) – which bought the shopping centre as part of a deal worth £115 million in July 2015 – announced its plans as several high-profile national retailers, including Waterstones, Laura Ashley and Boots, renewed or extended their leases following a particularly busy tourist season and strong trading run-in to Christmas.
Mark Hewett, of Scoop AM, said the lease to the current operator of the 15-year-old food court area was due to expire in March which provided the opportunity to "re-imagine, reconfigure and refresh" the space.
"This is an exciting time for the Eastgate Centre as the scheme bucks the national trend by attracting new retailers," he said.
"We are constantly striving to make the shopping experience more pleasurable for visitors and to provide all of those services the modern customer rightly expects to find within a development.
"A modern and appropriate catering offer is central to this and the opportunity to reconfigure the food court is one we have been keen to grasp."
He said since the food court opened in 2003, shopping centre catering had moved forward with many moving away from centralised seating areas.
"Our ambition is to create a new vibrant food offer for Eastgate which is complementary to both our retailers and our customers," he said.
The reconfiguration will include improving sight-lines across to the shops which are partially obscured by existing food kiosks.
The overall development for both daytime and evening catering, which is expected to start later this year, will be market-led. It was announced last year that Smashburger and Wildwood restaurants would open as part of the Eastgate expansion.
Other retailers in the centre and Falcon Square will continue to provide catering while the work is carried out in phases.
Fraser Grieve, regional director for the Highlands and Islands at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, welcomed the planned developments.
"There is a constantly changing face to retail in terms of what people’s expectations are both around shops and restaurants, and it is really important that businesses continue to look at their offering and make sure it sits with the demands," he said.
"It shows the Eastgate Centre is looking to adapt and open up more for longer and to ensure the city scene has more access to a wider food offering."
He looked forward to seeing progress on developing the restaurants fronting Falcon Square which would complement the £6 million redevelopment of the nearby railway station.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, believed evening dining would provide a great boost.
"That opens up the opportunity for the city centre to see increased patronage from the many tourists we see," he said.
Pay Hayden, chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, described the plans as "very exciting".
The centre also announced the former A Jones unit has been let to health-food retailer Grape Tree and terms have been agreed with a fashion retailer for the former Ed’s Diner.