Birmingham’s business district has been moving into the next phase of covid lockdown restrictions easing today.
The weather wasn’t great so at least cafés, restaurants and pubs were once again able to seat customers indoors instead of them having to shiver outside and those without external space were able to re-open for the first time in months.
We caught up with some members of the Colmore Business District to see how they saw the next few weeks and months progressing as the nation moves even closer to a life resembling the one we used to lead before the pandemic struck.
Alex Tross is deputy chairman of Colmore Business Improvement District and a head of office advisory at property agency Lambert Smith Hampton.
He told BusinessLive it was vital the district’s hospitality sector started thriving again as a key part of encouraging people back to their offices post-pandemic.
“Those venues, especially in the Colmore BID area, really add to its character and that’s what really helps to make it special,” he said.
“It’s about those business meetings with people, socialising and those interactions which lead to revenue down the line – all those things we cannot do at home – that makes the business district special but that is supported massively by these venues.
“The better the hospitality sector is able to bounce back, the more likely we are to see people coming back to their offices in the city.”
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Wearing his property agent hat, he said he had seen a rise in the number of people returning to work in the business district since the turn of the year despite the ongoing lockdown restrictions.
“That existential question about offices being dead has been put to bed, we know they are not,” he added.
“It’s now about having the right space which people will want to do the commute for. No-one is going to sit in a bland office, it’s really about the whole fabric and texture of the city centre.
“What businesses want to see is a thriving, dynamic business district and that is about people but for them to come back it has to be multifaceted.”
Matt Hammond is Midlands chairman and senior partner in Birmingham for financial services firm PwC.
The practice has been one of the few firms in the city centre which has kept its offices open throughout the pandemic but with much reduced staffing levels on site from the 2,500 normally based there.
Mr Hammond told BusinessLive he was pleased to see the business district kicking back into life and he hoped people would support the economic recovery over the coming months.
“Over recent weeks there has been an uptick in activity around Paradise and also pent-up demand, particularly from our own staff wanting to come in and avail themselves of the facilities here,” he said.
“They are probably a bit wearisome after 14 months in various stages of lockdown. There’s a real desire from people to have a change of scenery, meet with colleagues and friends and from today start using the facilities in the city centre again that we’ve long been banned from using.
“I am really hoping to see people start to come back with purpose to their workplace and mingle again with their colleagues, in some instances for the first time in person due to the pandemic.
“There are lots of new things for people to see and, if you’ve not been into Birmingham city centre for 15 months, I think you’ll be amazed at some of the changes that have taken place.
“Buildings that were only partially completed before they left are now finished or buildings which didn’t even exist before are now emerging out of the ground as the landscape and regeneration of the city centre takes hold.
“We have to make the most of those opportunities such as Coventry City of Culture or smaller events like Colmore Food Festival as they are all good reasons to get out and about to support businesses.
“This is what will make a difference and help us emerge from what’s been a very difficult 14 months.”
Chef Richard Turner works at Kuula Poké in the Great Western Arcade, which specialises in Hawaiian dishes of sushi fish, meats or tofu with rice, vegetables and tropical fruits.
The venue is now celebrating its second birthday and has managed to stay open throughout the pandemic by expanding its offer to include online and takeaway-only services.
He told BusinessLive: “We had to cut our cloth accordingly like most businesses but we didn’t close at all and have traded all the way through.
“During the first lockdown there were so many people at home so it went a bit crazy for us and since then it’s picked up for us here at the café as the restrictions have been eased. It’s not as busy as it was pre-pandemic but it’s certainly getting better.”
Looking ahead, he added: “We have put seating outside in the Great Western Arcade which we haven’t been able to do until today and have some seating in the shop but unfortunately we cannot use our mezzanine upstairs because of social distancing.
“We hope things go back to normal on June 21 and, if they do, I think the hospitality industry will see a massive surge in business.
“We have proven now that, even through a pandemic, our business model and food offer works. It is unique to Birmingham. If we can find the right location then we would look at expanding to somewhere else in the city.”
One of Birmingham’s most iconic venues will reopen its doors tomorrow for the first time since closing in 2002.
Renovation work on The Grand Hotel in Colmore Row has been ongoing for years but it is now ready to welcome customers again in a phased opening over the coming weeks.
General manager Peter Kienast is understandably excited about the launch after such a long wait.
“It’s a great pleasure for us to be able finally to open our doors after being closed for nearly 20 years and putting the old glamour back into the hotel,” he told BusinessLive.
“For us it’s exciting and I think we just complement a set of great hotels within Birmingham.
“It’s just a special place where hopefully we will be able to welcome our local friends, business partners and travellers very soon and share that very special feel of the Grand Hotel.
“We haven’t added anything to the history of it but we’re very proud that we’re able to bring it back to life with a modern twist.”