Talks are underway to bring more investors into the Talbot Gateway after fresh concerns were raised about the number of empty units in the £220m development.
Refurbishment of the Talbot Road multi-storey car park was completed in October 2013 – but none of the ground floor units there have so far started trading.
More than a year since staff moved into new council offices at Bickerstaffe House, a fitness centre and a Subway food outlet are open on the ground floor, but other units remain empty.
A buffet-style eaterie was due to open this summer in the ground floor of the car park building after contracts were signed in November last year but the opening has now been put back to the autumn.
Business leaders today urged council bosses to pull out all the stops to attract tenants.
A new 300-seat restaurant, Basrai World Buffet, is due to open in the autumn but that is the only confirmed business to have signed up.
If you want to open a shop you want it where people are walking past
Coun Fred Jackson, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for municipal assets, said negotiations were underway to bring in additional tenants,
He said: “Anybody who has walked past the Talbot Gateway over the last six weeks will have seen the largest unit, underneath the car park, being fitted out.
“That deal has been signed as a world buffet restaurant and we expect it to open in the autumn.
“Discussions are currently being held with potential investors about the other units, however people will understand that those negotiations cannot be carried out in the public domain.
“What we want from those companies is somebody who can run a sustainable long-term business and put more local people into employment.
“It is also worth noting that the cost of the Central Business District is also being offset by releasing other assets like Westgate House and Progress House, which are progressing well.
“We’re positive about the Talbot Gateway Central Business District. It has already created hundreds of jobs, as well as revitalising a run-down area of town and we believe that its impact in the long term will improve Blackpool for both residents and visitors.”
The promise comes despite the units remaining empty – nine months after The Gazette highlighted the problem.
Fill sandwich shop was the first business to open at the development – but it shut after just three months, blaming Subway for damaging its trade.
Bickerstaffe House has space for four units while the car park building has space for five units.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said: “I’ve raised this before and despite the promises nothing has materialised.
“No-one wants these units as far as I can see because they are in the wrong part of town.
“If you want to open a shop, you want it to be where there are lots of people walking past.”
Warwick Tunnicliffe, chairman of the St John’s and Church Street Traders Association, said: “We were expecting retail shops and/or restaurants and I think the council needs to do whatever it can to try and get these units let.
“For example they could give new tenants a rent holiday or rates reduction to encourage people to take the units on, get them shop-fitted and open.
“For people to take a chance with a new business they need some sort of incentive and the council should do whatever it can to encourage traders to have a go, because at the moment it is disappointing more of the units have not been taken on.”
Mick Sugden, a director of Ma Kelly’s which has one of its pubs on Talbot Road, said: “Perhaps the council needs to reduce the rents in order to attract businesses in.
“At the moment, apart from Sainsbury’s, there is nothing to bring people to this end of town, so something needs to be done.”
Raghbir Singh Basrai is set to invest £1m in a 300-seat restaurant called Basrai World Buffet.
He said: “Fitting out the unit is a really big job but we are planning to be open between September and October 2015.
“We really want to employ local people too. There are between 40 to 50 jobs that we will hire, such as chefs, cleaners and waiters.
“There will be nothing like this in Blackpool. It will be a great place for groups as well, because different people can order what they want.”