Lerwick’s historic town centre is in line for a revamp after local business and premises owners voted today for the area to become a Business Improvement District (BID).
Of the 104 proprietors in the ballot, 86 were in favour and only 18 against the area becoming a BID, the aim of which is to attract people to a more dynamic and vibrant town centre.
Being a BID means the area will be able to attract external funding and it will also require local businesses to pay a levy, based on their rateable value. This could be anything from £200 per year for small premises, with owners of larger premises paying more – Lerwick Port Authority for example would pay £1,450. The BID lasts for a period of five years.
The Living Lerwick steering group, with Harry Jamieson of Harry’s Department Store as chairman, was formed with a view to the BID being achieved.
Mr Jamieson said: “I’m completely delighted about the vote. It means that much for the town centre. We can go ahead with all the things we wanted to do. The support we’ve had from the town centre businesses, 82.7 per cent, has been tremendous. That kind of support, it’s really good.
“The main thing now will be to inform businesses how [the] vote’s gone. We’ll have to have a big meeting with them and set up a new committee for Living Lerwick to run the BID.”
The levy will be paid by all businesses in the historical area, even if they did not vote for it, and will bring in £80,000 per year for five years from local businesses, plus external funding.
Mr Jamieson said: “The steering group has done so much work and the support from SIC has been tremendous. It’s been a long struggle over the last two years but it’s been worth it. I’m over the moon.”
He was convinced that even those who did not vote for the BID would reap the benefit. “The projects will try and revitalise the town centre and increase footfall. We should make locals proud of the town as well as tourists. Sometimes we don’t realise what we’ve got.”
Improvements previously proposed by the group include a better parking system, making it easier to access the town centre, a higher standard of maintenance and cleanliness in some of the areas, visitor maps, information board and an initiative to communicate with cruise ship passengers.
One of the more tangible benefits could be the creation of street markets between the post office and Fort Charlotte – at least one a week in the summer, selling local and seasonal produce – and possibly a winter festival and a shopping week.
Besides events it has been suggested to use the street as a stage, a gallery and an art trail. Musicians and performers would be encouraged into the town centre, probably helped by Shetland Arts.
The idea of the gallery would be an annual exhibition by an artist, or possibly by schools or groups using banners or windows, with artefacts being produced for sale.
In addition “thought-provoking” works from local artists, craftspeople, musicians and writers could be commissioned to express Shetland’s relationship with the sea. These could be bits of writing carved into a surface, inlays on wooden benches or railings and small sculptures.
Meanwhile the town centre will shortly get a new cafe as Harry’s Department Store is opening a coffee shop on the top floor with seating for more than 40.