Published: 11:40, 14 February 2018
The city council now owns all of the Whitefriars shopping centre in Canterbury after sealing a £75.5 million deal yesterday to buy the remaining share.
The authority already spent almost £79 million in 2016 on acquiring a half the site and says it made sense to have control of the whole real estate for the long term future of the city.
It believes the acquisition, from TH Real Estate, will provide a lucrative long-term investment for the district, particularly in 25 years time when all the borrowing is paid back.
"It has to be remembered that we are doing this at no cost to local taxpayers but it will bring in revenue for the city, especially in future years," said council leader Simon Cook.
"We have thought very carefully about this once-in-a generation opportunity to take control of one of the city's key sites, which could easily have been bought by investors whose interests do no necessarily align with those in the district.
"While no investment is without its risks, buying 100% of Whitefriars will allow us to open up opportunities to shape the future of the city over the long term with decisions taken by a council working on behalf of residents."
The decision to buy the remainder of the shopping centre comes at a time of continuing falling central government grants to local authorities.
The city council has seen its own external funding fall significantly since 2010, and by 2023 expects to have lost a total of £12.5 million.
Cllr Cook says the council has to think about ways of generating income for the long term to invest in the district and acquiring all of Whitefriars is another step to the authority becoming more "self-sufficient".
Initially, it is expected to provide a return of £300,000 to £400,000 annually to the authority but Cllr Cook says that will rise as the debt is paid off.
The shopping centre will be managed for the city council by retail experts.
Council chief executive Colin Carmichael says the risks had been carefully measured by the authority.
"Retail analysists say that online shopping will plateau and we believe that as a destination city, Canterbury will always be attractive to retailers," he said.
Whitefriars has 474,000 sq ft of retail space spread across 63 shops in Whitefriars Walk, Gravel Walk, Marlowe Arcade and Rose Lane. It also comprises a 530-space car park, five office tenants and 38 residential tenancies.