From a dreary 1970s to the top nightlife, banking, swish trams and aperitif culture arriving in the 2020s. Westside business leader MIKE OLLEY describes the exciting rebirth of Broad Street.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, not a lot went on in and around Broad Street, if I’m being honest. It was boring during the day, with old, unkempt buildings housing the likes of coin and stamp-collecting shops.
We did have the odd renowned nightclub opening during the evenings and early hours, but the area didn’t attract people in their hundreds of thousands as it does today (pandemic allowing, of course). I recall the Manhattan Burger Bar, which was a very swish, Airstream-style diner. I can’t actually recall its precise, or even rough, location. But it was on Broad Street and sold great burgers.
Other than that, visits to Broad Street would be limited to an annual visit to buy the car tax from the Department of Transport offices in Oozells Street. This was all way before Brindleyplace was even a glint in anyone’s eyeball.
But then came the 1990s and the confluence of some big ideas of how to plan the future of the city. The NEC was proving to be a rip-roaring success, and this had prompted the city fathers and mothers to consider building the International Convention Centre and the National Indoor Arena.
The notion of creating a “convention” quarter in the city was becoming a reality. Before you knew it, the convention quarter was attracting hospitality venues and an interest from hoteliers. From the early beginnings of the 1990s, Broad Street as we know it was on the road to becoming the entertainment capital of the English Midlands, the place to enjoy yourself.
Brindleyplace was also well on its way towards completion. This set the seeds for Birmingham to become a banking and financial services centre. Way bigger than Edinburgh or Frankfurt. Westside (as it was later to be named) now had the strange marriage of entertainment sitting next to banking and finance. Strange bedfellows. But how it worked.
I came along in during the summer of 2005. The brief was to tame Broad Street, so the joviality of its revellers didn’t spill over and upset the good folk of Brindleyplace. Mission accomplished I would say. Brindleyplace remains 32-acres of commercial wonderment.
So much for looking back. What is the future? Well, when I landed we had no more than a dozen people living on Broad Street. A few carefree Antipodeans, staff at Walkabout, living above the premises, and two or three staff at the Figure of Eight, again above those premises.
Yet today we have tens of thousands of people living on or around Broad Street. And thousands more homes in the process of being built. This will once again radically change the feel of the area. We’ll soon have the completed Metro tram extension, which is reducing the width of the road and broadened the size of the pavements, and a real café culture awaits. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and how that’s going to change working patterns to be more home-based, and we really are on the cusp of another lifestyle revolution.
Just close your eyes and look at how times ahead could become. I can see people working two or three days a week in their offices in Brindleyplace. I can see people beavering away in their homes on or around Broad Street. This during the day of course.
Come early evening and people will be emerging from their homes or their offices and enjoying a spot of select hospitality. Perhaps a coffee and a couple of modest drinks, maybe with a light meal or
tapas-style snacks. I can see a new aperitif culture developing the early evening economy. This will be café culture on steroids, I suggest, as the volume of those working and living in the area will be in their tens of thousands.
There are exciting times coming on Westside, I can tell you. Broad Street boring? No way. It’s going to be even more dynamic. It’s going to be entertainment, café culture and fun, fun, fun all the way. A bright future awaits. Bring it on!