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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Changing perceptions of Plymouth
by Jemima Laing
BBC News South West

Plymouth Hoe
Plymouth Hoe is one of the world's largest natural harbours

The marketing of Plymouth should, on paper, be a fairly straightforward exercise.

It enjoys an enviable geographical position, looking out on one of the world's largest natural harbours, and minutes from Dartmoor National Park.

But as Plymouth City Centre manager David Draffan says, negative perceptions of Plymouth - the UK's 14th largest city - persist.

And those perceptions, he says, are now lagging far behind the reality.

So he acknowledges the challenge the city faces to reconnect with what he calls "Plymouth's lost shoppers".

As an investment opportunity Plymouth is still very attractive
Andrew Bullivant, Knight Frank

The city has a catchment of up to 750,000 shoppers - only half of whom have traditionally been coming to the city to part with their cash.

What is now being offered at the 6.52 acre Drake Circus centre - with its 654,000 sq ft of floor space - will be heavily showcased in a regional advertising campaign in the run up to Christmas.

It is all part of the plan to permanently install Plymouth in the psyche of the region's consumers as a shopping destination to rival its swankier neighbours Exeter, Truro and even Bristol.

"My job is to make sure they come here," said Mr Draffan

"And to make sure that when they do their experience is really exceptional."

But the opening of Drake Circus is only part of the jigsaw, the city's House of Fraser store has recently undergone a revamp, reported to have cost several million pounds, and well-known fashion names like Karen Millen and Hobbs have taken up residence.

TR2 plymouth
TR2 was judged British Building of the Year in 2003.

Store manager, Ben Brook said: "We are delighted to be enhancing Dingles and introducing the brands our customers in the South West have been asking us for, saving them the journey to Bristol and beyond. "

The ongoing development is not just confined to the city's retail sector.

The current flurry of activity is "completely revitalising the city skyline and Plymouth's overall offer" according to Andrew Bullivant from Knight Frank.

"The new Department for Work and Pensions building is set to open soon, and the regeneration of Millbay and the success of mixed use schemes such as Royal William Yard are all key contributors to the regeneration of the entire city, " he said.

"As an investment opportunity Plymouth is still very attractive, we're seeing a rapid increase in city centre accommodation being specifically designed for young professionals, students and affluent older couples."

Figures from Experian show that 21% of Plymouth's catchment are classified as both affluent households and high spending young families.

The city's demographic clearly attracted the indoor play centre group 123Jump, which has just opened a centre in the Crownhill area of the city, spending some 600,000.

Also helping the city to shed its outdated image is the construction of innovative and award winning buildings like TR2, the Theatre Royal's production and education centre.

Built on waste land at Cattedown on the River Plym the centre was judged the British Building of the Year in 2003 and nominated for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture.

Drake Circus
The Drake Circus shopping centre opens its doors on Thursday

The centre, which boasts three eye-catching bronze-clad pods, builds many large scale productions, many of which are seen for the first time by the Plymouth audience before heading off on tour or to the West End.

And gaining a wider audience for Plymouth itself is the focus of a co-ordinated plan to sell the city and reposition it in the national and international market.

The public/private sector initiative to set up a new organisation to look after the branding of the city is still seeking funding from national and regional agencies.

The project has received funding from the Plymouth 2020 Partnership and the city council and, as the council's Richard Longford explained, it is being led by the business community consulting a range of local firms, including hotel operators and local visitor attractions.

"The timescale for launching this is dependent on it being able to secure the necessary funding so no launch date has been set yet," he said.

'International visitors'

And while Plymouth has been changing, the council's own marketing and events team has also evolved over the past year from the former Plymouth Marketing Bureau.

It is tasked with, amongst other things, selling the city as a conference venue and a short-break destination.

"The council markets Plymouth as a short-stay destination nationally and events in the city are a major draw," said Mr Longford.

"It also aims to attract international visitors and over the years has successfully targeted visitors from European countries."

With so much development and investment and teams of people in both the public and private sector intent on making the very most of what Plymouth has to offer perhaps the city - too long regarded by some as Devon's ugly duckling - will finally become a 21st century swan.


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