We have secured the services of Terry Baxter as speaker at the Society's Annual General Meeting at the UCS Waterfront building on Wednesday 29 April. With Terry's co-operation we are trying something different this year. Terry is Chief Executive of Ipswich Central, the BID (Business Improvement District) company who are, with others, responsible for ensuring that we have a successful town centre, one that attracts both residents and visitors from a wide catchment: people who find reason to linger and enjoy the ambience and, of course, spend their money here rather than at the multitude of alternative shopping destinations that are available across the region.
Terry will paint a picture of where we are now but would then like to pick up on your ideas as to what needs to change, what needs to improve and how we, collectively, sell Ipswich to the world. What we don't want are negative comments; it is all too easy to criticise what has gone before, and for the most part we know what's wrong. What we need to know is how to put things right.
We are probably talking about change and change is unsettling: it disrupts the town, it disrupts the ambience and it disrupts the people, but it is change that we need. A simple example is replacing buildings, making them fit for the twenty-first century and suitable for retailers and their customers. Today's retailers need large, flat floor spaces that are easily accessible (from the front and from the rear), over which the occupier has complete control and in which he can display the goods without the distractions of windows, columns or dark corners. The out-of-town stores have developed this model and it works, so which town centre buildings can we knock down to make way for the creation of a modern city centre?
There was much criticism amongst members about the proposal to revamp the Cornhill but most agree that it is tired and worn, that it doesn't offer anything different to a multitude of other public squares in other town centres and that even the market, on the four days per week doesn't completely fill the space. It blocks the entrance to the Town Hall, to Manning's and the Old Post Office - something has to give...? Your suggestions as to what would be appreciated and will give us ideas for discussion.
The ongoing improvement to Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre seems to be working but what are we to do with the Buttermarket Shopping Centre? Yes, it's been sold but is it to be retail, or leisure? Should we build an additional shopping centre elsewhere and how do we get the evening economy working again? It has been suggested that we need a walking connection between the Cornhill and the Waterfront, so which route should it take? Before you answer that question consider how many times one of your visits to the town centre includes a coffee by the Wet Dock marina?
How do we get specialist independent retail outlets to succeed? What help do you think they need to get beyond their first year, and how can we get half a dozen to open together, trade together and attract customers from outside Ipswich?
Send your ideas and questions to me (contact details on page 23). We'll select the best and Terry will comment at the AGM.