After more than 2 years of enthusiastic speculation, positive hype and eagerly awaited anticipation, Friarswalk is here, and it's open.
Newport residents have recently experienced a remarkably high profile opening event, spanning an action packed long weekend of dancers, bands and live music, they have started to shop in the dozens of exciting retail units (though sadly, a large number of these remain unpopulated), and the dust from the building works is at last starting to settle (literally).The entrance to Friars Walk, NewortThe entrance to Friars Walk, Newort
As we look forward to the festive season and beyond into 2016, I consider...
* have the astronomical levels of hype matched reality?
* will the beautifully fitted restaurants and bistros continue to attract the forecasted numbers of clientele?
* and will what has been billed as Newport's 'foundation for future success and growth' actually deliver on its promise of being the guiding light for our wonderful City?
I'm a lifelong citizen and resident of Newport, and I write of my experiences and thoughts for the future. Feel free to agree/disagree as you wish by commenting on my Twitter page or in the comments section below. All feedback is welcome and everyone (apart from any sinister #trolls ) is entitled to their opinion 👍
OK. Yep, overall I like it, and as a current popular(ish) Twitter hashtag might suggest, #TheresALotToLike! I ought to say here that I did find myself considerably underwhelmed at the small number of retail outlets (as have many others I have spoken to), and let's be honest, despite the owners allowing the media to hype up Joe Public's expectations to be - FriarsWalk is no St David's or Cabots Circus, but it certainly is an impressive covered shopping area with a wide range of shops to suit most génres - and importantly it is a long awaited, huge positive step for Newport. Oh, and did I mention that Usk Plaza is just awesome, absolutely awesome; the restaurants and bistros, the lights, the colours, the aesthetic - it's beautiful, utterly gorgeous, and is a photographers heaven!
Patience and common sense suggested I waited a few days before visiting which I did in the hope that there would be room to actually walk around without being shoulder humped by avid shoppers, or being barged by over enthusiastic 'I want to visit before anyone else does' visitors [I joke].
So my first visit was to be a late Sunday afternoon stroll with my buddy Steve (maybe give him a follow!) three days after the grand official opening.
I'm extremely glad I visited then as the wonderful WereNoHeroes were playing centre stage in new main John Frost Square. They were excellent, and they now have a new follower -me! For those who haven't heard them, I'd heartily recommend looking them up on Spotify and listening to some of their music - you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Friars Walk shopping areaAn impressive covered walkway Walking through the covered shopping mall which perhaps is what many might consider to be the actual Friarswalk itself, is for me (a male) what I'd describe a normal experience of shops and boutiques. Nothing maginfiqué!
However, I am sure by saying this I will have ruffled the feathers of those more experienced than I in the art of retail therapy who might suggest it more of a wonderful experience!! I must say though, that after turning the corner at Debenhams and heading left towards Commercial St, my first impressions were that of feeling extremely underwhelmed and thinking... 'is that really it? Is that what all the hype and media frenzy was about?'. I think I was rather expecting there to be more retail outlets, more shops, more... well, just more! Not disappointed, more underwhelmed!
The shopping area of Friarswalk is absolutely no St Davids or Cabots Circus by a long, long way. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic coup for the city, that should draw the proposed increasing numbers of shoppers, diners and visitors, and will for sure generate the huge revenues that are forecast. For me though, more importantly, much more importantly, is that I desperately hope a significant proportion of those visitors find their way to businesses in Newport who have always been there... such as the small indie traders at Newport Market, the superb niche restaurants and cafés such as Secret Garden and Diverse Music on Charles St, and Cedars Café on Skinner St. There's also some quality shops and pubs just on the outskirts of the centre, such as Peaches Boutique and The Ivy Bush, both not far from Cenotaph. I guess for these small businesses only time will tell - though having spoken to many of our small independent traders, initial feedback is very encouraging.
In my view ladies and gentlemen, this is the crowning glory of Friarswalk; the piéce de résistance, the jewel in the crown, and is a masterpiece of changing colour, aesthetic and welcoming endure. Usk Plaza is full of beautiful restaurants and bistros, contains a modern cinema complex and multi purpose gym, and is the perfect vista for Newports new showpiece! What a place.Usk PlazaColours change by the minute!
I can see it now; next summer... a Mediterranean Newport, the sun shining, families and friends sitting on the chairs outside each bistro, all enjoying afternoon snacks, cool beers and generally revelling in the outdoor experience. Sound good? Let's hope the summer of 2016 allows it, eh!
I had the privilege of being invited to dine at a few of the various restaurants during opening week and on one occasion took my bestie Diane, to Le Bistro Pierre - wow, just wow! First class cuisine indeed (more of that in a later blog, perhaps). Suffice to say the experience of each of the restaurants where I ate was just superb. I think between us, my daughter and I will have sampled almost every eatery in Usk Plaza during their first two weeks of opening!
Friars Walk As for travel and transport - apart from the usual teething problems of barriers getting stuck etc, there doesn't seem to be any real issues here with ample covered parking (free for the first hour) and easy, frequent (for some) bus access to the city. I fail to get as excited as I see some of my acquaintances have at the prospect of the new Bus Station opening, though in fairness it is adjacent to the Eastern side of Friarswalk and thus closer to the market and independent traders area of Newport.
I'm a cup half full sort of chap, and it's fair to say that overall I am impressed with Friarswalk, it can and should only be seen as a positive for Newport. Yes there's a lot to like, but there's also a lot more to do if it is to remain such a positive influence on the city.
If you haven't visited yet, why not head down and see for yourself. Newport is changing, and for the better.