In the 12 months since the Bullring opened to the public, it has welcomed more than 36.5 million shoppers - making it Britain's busiest shopping centre. Consumer Affairs Reporter Emma Brady looks at how the multi-million pound development has changed the city
It was always going to be a big number, but nobody expected Bullring's first year footfall figure to trounce that of every other major retail centre in Britain.
But, given that 276,600 people visited the £530 million development in its first ten hours of trading on September 4, 2003, it should not be such a big surprise.
Yesterday, as the great and the good gathered to celebrate Bullring's first birthday, it was clear Birmingham has a lot to celebrate.
By close of business on Wednesday 36,613,580 people had wandered through the centre, spending more than £400 million, over the past 12 months.
As Tim Walley, Bullring's general manager, announced the figure there was no disguising his pride.
He said: "A year ago we made a bold statement that we were Europe's new shopping capital.
"Now, as our visitor numbers show, we can safely say we've contributed to raising Birmingham's international profile.
"We are officially now the most visited shopping centre in the UK. I can't think of any other attraction which pulls in so many people a year."
Despite fears Bullring would turn Birmingham into a ghost town, as retailers opted to take prime units inside the development, Mr Walley was keen to underline the benefits of the 'Bullring effect'.
A new survey, commissioned for the centre's first birthday, revealed shoppers spend an average of 94 minutes inside the mall, and 53 per cent of them then visit other retailers in the city including House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer, and Pavilion Central.
He said: "The impact on the city has been a boom to the local economy. Retail is now a major employment sector here, and tourism has benefited as hotel occupancy has risen.
"Birmingham is finally gaining a reputation as a top flight shopping destination."
With more than 600,000 people a week visiting the centre, Bullring is now regarded as a tourist attraction in its own right.
Many gather around Laurence Broderick's bronze bull sculpture, where a commemorative plaque was unveiled yesterday as the Fanfare of the Common Man echoed around Rotunda Square.
Ian Squires, chairman of Marketing Birmingham, said: "The Selfridges building has provided the city with a new iconic landmark and the centre as a whole is attracting millions of visitors.
"Most of these people do not just see Bullring as a shopping destination, they see it as an experience and we know they go on to do other things in the city."
Jon Emery, project director of Bullring developers Hammerson, believes there is still room for more developments. He said: "We honestly had no idea it would be as successful as it has been so far. The impact on retail, the city, and beyond, has exceeded everyone's expectations. We are all immensely proud.
"Birmingham still has a long way to go, there's still room for development. It'll happen slowly but we hope more independents and smaller chains will move into the city centre.
"Martineau Galleries is our next focal point, but alongside that I think we'll see growth and development around Digbeth, Eastside and New Street station."
City council leader Mike Whitby (Con Harborne) said the city should be proud of Bullring's achievement because it had put Birmingham back on the map.
He said: "I think it is the piece of the city's jigsaw which has been missing for far too long - the public's reaction to Bullring reflects how much this was needed."
* Retailers feel good about buzz from the Bullring
City retailers said they are feeling a benefit from the 'Bullring effect'.
Despite fears of a David and Goliath-type battle for customers and their cash between long-established centres and the new mall, key businesses elsewhere in the city are reporting an increase in trade.
One area where competition is fierce is among the city's department stores.
Before Bullring opened last year, shoppers could browse around Beatties, House of Fraser and Marks and Spencer.
But the £530 million mall brought with it two heavyweight anchor stores - Debenhams and Selfridges.
Kevin Breese, manager of Beatties, on Corporation Street, said overall it was happy with its customer and sales figures.
He said: "Bullring has brought a fantastic new challenge to Birmingham and I think we should applaud the fact that it's done that.
"Our young fashion sales haven't been as good because that's the same market Bullring stores are targeting but other departments have seen an upturn.
"We're up against the UK's largest House of Fraser store, and the second largest Debenhams and Selfridges in Britain.
"All that's happened here is customers have been given more choice, and those who may be not doing so well should remember there are no quick results in retail.
"We should be so proud of Bullring, it's vastly improved the city's retail offer and attracted millions more people to Birmingham. Surely that's enough for anyone?"
House of Fraser, also on Corporation Street, unveiled its new-look store after a £30 million refurbishment scheme last September.
Caroline Appleby, the store's spokeswoman, said: "Any major development has to have a positive effect, which we would definitely say Bullring has had on Birmingham.
"It's helped us move up the Experian rankings ten places to be ranked third best place to shop in Britain.
"There are now five department stores here and the city has a very comprehensive retail offer.
"Overall, I think it's fair to say everyone has benefited in one way or another from its business."
Jenny Inglis, the city centre director, agreed the development had vastly improved Birmingham's retail offer and profile.
"The impact of Bullring on the city's retail sector has been considerable, with some retailers taking second or third units in Birmingham," she said.
"Many retailers have had to raise their game to put themselves in the best possible position to capitalise on the Bullring factor."
* We must ensure we don't lose momentum
The Bullring has made a dramatic difference to retail culture in Birmingham - particularly by bringing late night shopping to the city.
This is a move that has undoubtedly been welcomed by consumers, particularly during the festive period, and research bears this trend out.
Now that Birmingham has raised its game in the retail stakes and proved itself to be a serious competitor on the European stage, we must ensure we do not lose this momentum.
With increasing competition among retail brands, it is essential for retailers to keep things fresh to maintain the notoriously fickle consumer interest.
The city's retailers are not just competing with each other, but other leisure activities such as going to the gym and watching television.
Shopping these days is about lifestyle and the pleasure of the moment and since the opening of Bullring, our expectations of the 'shopping experience' are higher than ever.
As it enters its second year of trading, changing economic conditions also present a challenge for the retail sector.
We have become used to hearing good news, with consumer spending supporting profit margins. Thanks to low interest rates and high employment levels, coupled with rocketing house prices, a consumer spending boom has been sustained over the last couple of years at a time when consumers in other countries have had to tighten their belts.
But all good things must come to an end and it's over the next couple of years that finance and operations directors at our locally-based retail chains will really earn their salaries.
The evidence is already emerging with several consecutive rises in interest rates starting to take effect and August sales putting in a poor performance.
One thing is clear - trading directors may find it increasingly difficult to post double digit annual sales increases and will look to their operations colleagues on the board to help them out.
Work on cost reduction programmes are where an increasing amount of our time with retail clients is being focused, as operations and finance directors are starting to prepare for a downturn in trade.
For Birmingham, the opening of the Bullring seems to have been just the start of the city's transformation and the retail revolution looks set to continue.
* A bird's eye view of success
From the air it is clear to see that the Bullring sits at the heart of Birmingham.
The 15,000 silver discs which cover Selfridges glistened in the sun as a convoy of chartered helicopters flew over the city's landmarks.
Millennium Point, the BT Tower, the National Indoor Arena, Symphony Hall and the multi-million pound mall, are all clearly visible from the skies.
As the helicopter hovered over the city centre, Sir Albert Bore, Labour group leader on the city council, was keen to point out where other new developments were taking shape. Near Five Ways, which looks less busy and much smaller from the air, the ground work for Optima Housing's scheme at Attwood Green is being carried out.
"From up here you can see how much work is going on around the city, it's a constant job as Birmingham is always evolving," he said.
"What else is noticeable is the amount of green spaces we have here, as well as the sheer size of the city. Also we can see how regeneration schemes are spreading out to the suburbs."
As the helicopter headed towards the glistening Selfridges building, Land Rover's plant came into view, with hundreds of vehicles filling its car parks.
From up above the city, the Bullring's shoppers looked like busy worker ants, tiny and running around doing their chores.
Heading back towards Elmdon Airport, the helicopter flew over Edgbaston Reservoir, Cannon Hill Park and Birmingham University.
Sir Albert, former leader of the city council, said:
"Bullring represents how Birmingham has dramatically changed over the past 15 years or so. During the 1980s there was 25 per cent unemployment - 50 per cent in some city wards - school leavers couldn't get jobs, and when they could afford it they'd go to their local pub on a Saturday night.
"Now we have low unemployment, businesses are opting to open or relocate here, and on Saturday night Broad Street and Brindleyplace is packed with people." As the helicopter landed he added: "Being able to see the city centre from the air makes it easy to see how much has changed and what has been achieved.
"You can see how previously run-down or deprived areas are now flourishing."