It’s been an unanswered Leeds question for many years many times. The one about that big lump of curved architecture on a city square street corner. That iconic space, occasionally filled with life, yet more often left empty and unused. That question: whatever’s going to happen to the Majestic building? As the landmark site approaches its first full century, the answer has regularly changed, and more recently there hasn’t been one at all.
Since opening in 1922 as a cinema, restaurant and ballroom, the aptly named building has been much loved and fondly remembered through each generation. It remained in its initial use until the 1960s when at the end of that decade it became a bingo hall. That also lasted decades, but in the nineties closed down and was replaced with a nightclub, renamed Majestyk. Like those before it, this achieved legendary status, but ten years later that too disappeared, and it seemed Majestic was too big a project to ever permanently succeed.
For the past decade, it increasingly appeared to be shuffling towards a sad demise, full of wasted potential, forgotten about, disturbingly derelict. There were plans to convert into ‘mixed leisure and retail use’, a vague and uninspiring intention, but at least an ambition to reclaim this giant space, and perhaps hope for its future. Then, in 2014, disaster struck, as a fire wiped out parts of Majestic, removing the roof and gutting its interior. Maybe the curse was real.
Leeds being Leeds, this awful event didn’t flatten us, but instead somehow galvanised the city, reminded people of this grade II listed beauty, and reinvigorated interest. Of course, that would only mean something if money was invested back in, and fortunately that’s exactly what happened. Local property firm Rushbond set out to develop Majestic into modern workspaces and high-class offices, and not long later, exciting new tenants were announced to the city’s mass approval: Channel 4.
The television company chose Leeds as its new northern home in 2018 with a view to moving in 2020. Now its exact location has been revealed as Majestic, and it feels a proper fit. Previous occupants may not have direct similarities, but with entertainment and moving picture at the forefront of the building’s former uses, this giant and respected arrival appears a worthy incoming resident.
Not only that, Channel 4’s move here is likely to be of huge benefit to the city. Having competed with Birmingham and Manchester to be their host, this was clearly considered an important prize by the city councils. Undoubtedly, their immediate and literal aims may be financial, but that and a progressively better city for everyone can be mutually inclusive.
The investment by Channel 4 and the workers coming with them bring money into the city’s economy, invested into both the boring essentials of infrastructure and the exciting options of opportunity. Jobs too will be created, not only directly, but also by the many businesses that work with them. Creative roles diversify, out of London and into Leeds, and surrounding jobs also grow. The effect of a large company such as this choosing here is for others, related and otherwise, to pique interest and potentially follow.
Indeed, the publicity, with the spotlight shone on Leeds, ensures the city will not be forgotten about on wider decisions. The northern powerhouse proposals now have another reason to be a true intention and not just lip service. And within that, in the national perspective, Leeds joins Manchester, who have been the go-to city, especially off the back of the comparative Media City.
A fear is that the money and opportunities float to the top, creating an elite, ignoring the deprived, widening the divide. But the reality of these kind of relationships is of both a domino and a butterfly effect; from big business and councils, through independents and educations, in rich centres and poor suburbs, to individuals and groups, there is potential for all to have the opportunity to thrive. That is, if managed effectively, collectively. Together, let’s take this and do that!
With the weeks quickly passing by, Channel 4 are set to move in on the 6th of September with their creative minds and bright ideas. And with our 4th edition of the Little Black Book on the way, sponsored by Channel 4, we’re excited to help guide the new residents of Leeds around the city.