Crazy golf, trampoline centres or even a 'mini NEC': Northampton will need to become a leisure hub to survive, says pub company boss
Northampton needs to become a town of leisure to survive the loss of Marks & Spencers - and should even consider a "mini NEC" for the former Greyfriars site.
That is according to the boss of McManus pubs, Paul McManus, who runs 15 venues across Northampton.
The businessman, who has brought a number of disused town centre buildings back into use, believes the loss of Marks & Spencer on Abington street could present a major leisure opportunity for Northampton.
"When they built the Grosvenor Centre in 1975 they had to close down two streets to build it," he said.
"That was a really bold move.
"Now times have changed we have got to be bold again.
"Is Northampton going to be the first town centre that recognises that switch from retail to leisure and experience."
Mr McManus has urged the leaders of Northampton Borough Council and the town's Business Improvement District (BID) to work out a joint strategy for the future of the town centre.
M&S chiefs announced its Abington Street store was among 14 they were proposing to close last Tuesday. The move will put 96 jobs at risk.
If the store does close it will be the second major retailer in the space of a few yards to close in Abington Street, with the BHS shutting its doors in 2016.
He believes the council should not discount trying to attract a major retailer to fill the void vacated by M&S.
But he believes the huge two-storey building could easily house an indoor trampoline centre or a crazy golf arena cropping up in city centres around the UK - especially if landlords could agree to market the vacated M&S and BHS stores as a single site.
And he believes the current plans of the former Greyfriars bus station site - for a multiplex cinema and restaurants - could be more ambitious.
"The former bus station is an oblong island," he said. "Why don't we look at having something like a smalle NEC there?
"We could look at having an 02 Academy there or another Royal and Derngate for exhibitions, we need to be ambitious.
"We are right in the centre of England, we can use that."
McManus Pubs will soon start work to develop the former Shipman's pub that fronts onto the Drapery in Northampton town centre.