I was shocked to see how bad a state the Bargate Centre is in now. It is clearly on its last legs. All the shops are closed it seems. As it happens, the owner (BNP Paribas – a stupid name that gives visions of the other, nasty political BNP) has served notice on all the retailers as the centre is running at a loss.
While I dislike that type of architecture (80s/90s post-modern stuff), I have a lot of happy memories of it: it was a very cool place to hang out – with a GAME shop and Sega Park to name but two.
When I was at ITeC (a now-defunct IT college in St Mary Street) we always used to go in there at lunchtime, to play Air Hockey or those driving games where you’re linked together to the people next to you to race. I was never very good at either!
Later on, the Bargate centre had something of an alternative vibe, which was cool. With Shakeaway, DJ stores, sk8 fashion, tattoo and piercing services and gothic clothing stores, it was definitely a cool place to hang out.
The bottom floor looked very exciting, with neon lights and colourful shops. The top floor was always somewhat bare and barren, with the very high walls.
The outer façades were very blank and devoid of windows. A very introverted building, and it looks a lot bigger from the outside. It is attached to a somewhat-brutalist multi-storey car park, not sure if that was part of the build or there before and the link between the shops and the car park was confusing and poorly-signed.
The courtyard in the middle never really took off. I think it was some kind of food court originally (but can’t remember). After that it was a cyber-cafe but that didn’t last long either.
The centre was only opened in around 1989 and has had a very short lifespan. Rumours of demolition may be closer than they seem. I have looked on the council’s planning applications website and there is no evidence of redevelopment plans. The centre’s website is woefully out of date, showing long-departed shops. Apparently, the previous owner before the BNP went bust and the centre is looking for a buyer. This is perhaps optimistic, considering the recent demise of other retailers in Southampton – Woolworths, Jessops and, inevitably, HMV, which I sadly think is on a life-support machine in intensive care. Who will be next?
The Bargate Centre was originally going to be demolished to make way for a new Debenhams store (allowing the current building on Queensway to be replaced with flats. Fortunately, as I like the building, Debenhams has said it is proud to be in a building with so much history from the Edwin Jones era, and they’ve recently had a multi-million pound refurbishment. Who would want to buy the Bargate Centre though?