Wembley Park: A “destination in its own right”?

18th January 2024 | Jack Oliver

Matt Slade says Wembley Park is a “one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in London” – Photo: Chris Winter

When developer Quintain purchased the land surrounding Wembley Arena in 2002, it set out a clear and ambitious objective: create a thriving neighbourhood all year round, not just during big events.

22 years later, Quintain’s retail director at Wembley Park, Matt Slade, tells Completely Retail News that the neighbourhood has now become a “destination in its own right”.

“We believe it’s one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in London“, he adds.

So what makes a destination? For Wembley Park, it must pull in visitors on its own merit, and not just function as an extension of the stadium and arena.

Currently, the mixed-use neighbourhood comprises hundreds of build-to-rent properties, retail and leisure space, and public realm works.

So how does this retail and leisure offer at Wembley Park help make it a destination? For starters, Slade says that outlet shopping centre London Designer Outlet (LDO) – which opened its doors in 2013 – has now become the main attraction for many people visiting Wembley:

“Just before the pandemic, the dial tipped in favour of more people visiting Wembley to go shopping than to go to the arenas, and that’s been the case for a while now.”

The trend has continued, with LDO benefitting from a value-for-money experience that has become increasingly desirable as consumers struggle with the cost-of-living.

“Outlet centres historically go through cyclical growth, but over the last 12 months LDO has really been adopted by the local catchment even more than it ever used to be”, says Slade.

Not only is the outlet centre popular with locals, but customers from further afield are also making trips to LDO, leading to a successful festive period to cap off 2023. LDO saw its best ever December, Christmas week, and Boxing Day in 2023, recording £99m turnover for the entire year.

“As we came through Christmas, we ran out of superlatives for our ‘best ever’, says Slade.

Quintain aren’t the only ones. Outlet retailing has proved to be a robust investment choice over the last year as more consumers hunt out bargains.

London Designer Outlet – Photo: Chris Winter

The LDO isn’t the only retail on offer at Wembley Park, however. For those who live and work in the neighbourhood, more essential services are needed.

“It’s not your traditional high street” at Wembley Park, says Slade. You can see why; the retail make-up has been designed to cater to local residents and workers. Services such as doctors, dentist, vets, dry cleaners, and nurseries make up a large chunk of the offer.

This offer is bolstered by a large data pool available to Quintain, which benefits from being both the developer and operator at Wembley Park. Utilising its build-to-rent platform, Quintain has been able to create a demographic profile of its residents and project what they might need from the retail offer.

Alongside retail, another factor contributing to Wembley Park’s status as a destination is the mixture of events on offer. Slade describes the neighbourhood as a “cultural corner” of London:

“On top of the big events that everyone knows about, we run constant events in the the public realm, with our venues putting on smaller events for a more local customer”, he says, adding that Boxpark – which opened at Wembley Park in 2018 – runs 200 events a year.

Boxpark Wembley – Photo: Quintain

This leisure offer is also being considered as part of the development process. As Quintain works through the 85-acre footprint of Wembley Park, it is opting to make use of property which otherwise would have remained vacant.

“You have this transitional effect where some of the spaces become compromised by the developments around them. You want to bring in activity to keep the spaces alive without impeding further development, so they’ve been very good for us at creating meantime uses.”

Wembley Arena itself began as a pop-up swimming pool when it first opened in 1948, so meantime uses, Slade points out, have “a habit of hanging around” at Wembley.

One of these spaces has been transformed into a 1,200-seat theatre, hosting the likes of Secret Cinema and Punchdrunk Enrichment.

“These experiences are bringing in tens of thousand people every week into what would have been demolished places”, says Slade, “but ultimately they are meantime and time-limited and will eventually be a big development at some point in the future.

Despite the attractions at Wembley Park, the impact of events at the stadium and arena has not gone unnoticed at Quintain:

“The dynamic and diverse footfall that Wembley gets is clearly one of the biggest attractors to bringing new businesses to Wembley”, says Slade, “The enhanced footfall that comes with the events programme is really interesting because you can’t predict the type of customer that arrives. An AC/DC concert is going to deliver a different type of customer than a Taylor Swift concert.”

The global pop superstar arrives at Wembley Stadium for what will be an interesting experiment for Quintain. One study found that two of Taylor Swift’s performances in July 2023 boosted Colorado’s economy by an estimated $140m. Slade, meanwhile, is predicting around a 75% increase in sales across the entire estate during this leg of her tour. Businesses at Wembley Park will hope that they too can benefit from the modern sensation of ‘Swiftonomics’.

“When we see these events at the stadium it’s not just the 80,000 people that arrive on the day, they’ll come the day before, they’ll stay the day after. There’s an economic halo that will flow all the way through the summer”, says Slade.

Taylor Swift’s arrival at Wembley Stadium is expected to generate a lot of buzz at Wembley Park – Photo: Brian Friedman / Shutterstock.com

Interestingly, its because of the economic pressures and the cost of living that the events programmes are expected to do so well, explains Slade:

“People want escapism from these pressures. Going to those big events at the arena or immersive experiences – that’s where people are spending their money. Even though their budgets are tight they are still applying for tickets. It’s the same if you look at the festival market; people are wanting to go out and have an escape.”

If the economy continues to recover and this need for escapism starts to dwindle, it remains to be seen whether Wembley Park will continue to enjoy the same level of success it has seen for many years now. Both the outlet centre and the events programmes have benefitted from the tricky economic climate of the last few years. However, Slade believes that the area’s unique offering will ensure its success as a destination:

“We’re pretty confident to say there’s nowhere else in the world that delivers the big global sports events and the big entertainment events like Wembley. To do that alongside people living and working – with bars and restaurants – is unparalleled.”

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