There’s a real buzz across central Middlesbrough as new businesses play a key role in a thriving resurgence.
They’re queuing up to join a vibrant food and leisure scene that’s bucking regional and national trends and drawing glowing reviews from far and wide.
The seeds of the renaissance have been sown over a number of years, with pioneering initiatives such as the Corner Emporium helping fledgling start-ups find their feet.
The new breed of independent entrepreneurs – with expert support and guidance from Middlesbrough Council’s Business Development Team – gravitated towards refurbished units in Baker Street and Bedford Street, now home to the hugely successful Orange Pip Market.
This spring’s launch of the town’s Investment Strategy sought to build on the successes of recent years, with plans for more than £700 million of inward investment to cement Middlesbrough’s place as the city heart of the Tees Valley.
Kevin Parkes, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Director of Growth and Place, explains: “None of this has happened by accident – our strategy from the outset has been to make Middlesbrough the place to do business, and a great destination for work, retail and leisure.
“The results of that ‘can do’ approach can be seen right across the town centre, with a stream of new investment constantly adding to and enhancing a vibrant, cosmopolitan offer.
“The impact on the local economy is huge, and for local people there are the sort of job opportunities that can be truly life changing.”
Among the latest arrivals – creating around 50 of those new jobs – is Bistrot Pierre, bringing a touch of Gallic flair to the key Albert Road area near the Town Hall and Centre Square.
Just around the corner from the newly opened Turtle Bay Caribbean restaurant and soon-to-launch designer outlet Flannels, the Bistrot has benefited from important Council support.
In addition to helping with recruitment, the authority has undertaken a major £650,000 programme of street level improvement works to enhance Albert Road and Centre Square’s appeal as a leisure destination.
The new restaurants and extension to the thriving Holiday Inn Express represent investment of more than £4m, and the creation of nearly 100 jobs.
They join a plethora of micropubs, independent boutiques and a truly cosmopolitan restaurant scene that has, in the space of just a few years, transformed Middlesbrough’s cultural and night-time economy.
The dazzling array of newcomers include Japanese ‘izakaya’ bar and restaurant Umi, The Curing House, Bedford Street Coffee, The Chairman and The Smeltery at mima.
Nearby Linthorpe Road has welcomed Fork in the Road, Uno Momento, Oven and former Boro star Dimi Konstantopoulos’s Greek restaurant Great to name just a few.
Yet more transformation lies ahead with the rebranding of the town’s tallest building Centre North East as The Pinnacle, with plans in train for student accommodation, a gym, boutique bowling alley, sky bar and casino.
John Taylor, of Cliff Court Developments which is leading The Pinnacle project, said: “We are really excited to be part of the revolution currently taking place across the town centre.
“It’s clear that Middlesbrough is becoming a significant destination for families, and our ambition is to create the sort of attractions that will draw people into the town centre from a much wider area.
“Working with the council has been instrumental in helping us to bring in the sort of quality end users like Turtle Bay and Lane 7 that will give new life both to Centre North East and the town as a whole.”
It’s a resurgence that hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially among Boro ex-pats like former Guardian columnist and award-winning writer Harry Pearson who admitted a little nervousness when introducing a new girlfriend – a former Michelin Guide inspector no less – to the town, when writing his exclusive Tees Business column.
Any fears fell away soon after their arrival: “Half an hour later we were sitting at the speckled marble counter in The Curing House on Bedford Street, eating a big platter of charcuterie and drinking chilled manzanilla.
“This is good,” I said, trying to keep the note of surprise out of my voice.
“Good?” my girlfriend replied. ‘No, it’s great. I feel like I’m in Manhattan!”
“Like I say, there are some sentences you never expect to hear – but it’s very, very nice when you do.”
Pearson sums up the new confidence that can be seen across the town, and in every sector: “Teesside now has a bubblingly ebullient restaurant scene, from the glorious restored splendour of Acklam Hall to the socially conscious excellence of The Fork in the Road.”
Meanwhile leading local entrepreneur Steve Cochrane – the man behind fashion mecca Psyche – is another champion of the town who clearly sees a bright future ahead.
“The reality of Middlesbrough is totally at odds with the national image – it’s been a long time coming, but that’s really starting to change,” he says
“The town is striding forward and there are lots of fantastic places for people to shop and go for lunch, micropubs and breweries, cool gin and cocktail bars.
“The people in place at Middlesbrough Council are very business focused, they’re doing a good job.
“It’s starting to feel like a city, and there’s lots in the pipeline.”
Work has also just started on a new £10m Dock Bridge at Middlehaven which will further open up one of the region’s most important regeneration sites, with work expected to start next summer on a £30m snow centre.
Closer to the town centre, plans are progressing for the development of five Grade A office blocks on land to the east of Centre Square, creating around 1,500 new jobs and giving a major boost to the town centre economy.
Councillor Charlie Rooney, Middlesbrough Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for City Centre Strategy, sums up the mood: “There’s a real sense that we are at an exciting point in Middlesbrough’s history, the start of a whole new era in the life of the town.
“There’s a real sense of optimism at the moment, and we can help to maintain and drive that momentum by supporting and encouraging the sort of leisure facilities and physical regeneration that people tell us they want to see.
“It’s a question of honouring the rich heritage which laid Middlesbrough’s foundations, while looking to the future with purpose and confidence.
“We’ve done the ground work and made the first few important strides, with impressive changes already plain to see – but I firmly believe the best is yet to come.”