Plans for a novel food hub at Leeds Kirkgate Market have taken a momentous leap forward with the confirmation of a preferred operator for the ‘container-style’ venue.

Leeds City Council had called for initial expressions of interest in April last year from private operators eager to develop and manage the attraction slated for a portion of the market’s outdoor trading space.

Now, after a rigorous selection process spanning 10 months, the council has unveiled STACK as its preferred operator.

STACK is known for crafting sustainable leisure hubs that offer a medley of street food and beverage outlets alongside events and entertainment.

Since its inception on the North East coast in 2020, STACK Seaburn, constructed from repurposed shipping containers, has drawn over 2.5 million visitors.

Presently, work is underway on two fresh STACK venues in Newcastle city centre, with one earmarked as a ‘fan zone’ adjacent to Newcastle United’s St James’ Park ground.

Additionally, STACK has ventures in various stages of development in cities such as Lincoln, Bishop Auckland, Middlesbrough, Whitley Bay, Durham, Carlisle, Northampton, Manchester, Wigan, and Sheffield.

STACK was among three private operators that submitted formal bids to the council for the Leeds site.

Its selection as the preferred operator hinged on its rental proposal and detailed plans illustrating how the project would complement the market and attract new clientele for existing traders.

The commencement of any work is contingent upon securing the requisite planning and licensing approvals.

The operator would bear the cost of constructing the food, beverage, and entertainment venue, with rental payments generating a fresh revenue stream for the council.

It is anticipated that the development would invigorate foot traffic throughout the market site and entice a new customer demographic to this historic gem in the city’s retail landscape.

Moreover, it would generate employment opportunities and offer increased avenues for independent traders through a seven-day-a-week operation extending into the evenings.

Presently, the outdoor market boasts space for a total of 185 stalls, with approximately 85 occupied on peak days.

As per plans disclosed by the council in late 2022, the number of outdoor pitches would be reduced, with the liberated space earmarked for the new container village.

The revamped area would still comfortably accommodate all existing traders, alongside newcomers, retaining its status as one of the largest sites of its kind in the region.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said:

“We are delighted to be able to confirm STACK as our preferred operator for what will be, subject to the necessary planning and licensing approvals, a really exciting addition to Leeds Kirkgate Market.

“STACK’s track record and proposals make it an ideal fit for a scheme that would complement other major improvements at the market – improvements that recently helped push monthly visitor numbers past 500,000.

“Our ongoing investment in this important and historic retail destination means it is now well placed to play its part in powering the further regeneration of the eastern side of the city centre.

“The council is also committed to continuing to work with the market’s existing traders to ensure they can reap the maximum benefit from the proposed food village.”

Neill Winch, STACK’s chief executive officer, said; “We at STACK are thrilled to be selected as the preferred operator for the new food village at Leeds Kirkgate Market. Our passion for creating vibrant, community-focused destinations aligns perfectly with the council’s vision for regeneration and cultural enrichment.

“STACK’s approach is all about sustainability and synergy with local businesses. We’re excited to bring our unique blend of street food, beverage offerings and entertainment to Leeds and to integrate with the historic and bustling market environment. This opportunity not only allows us to contribute to the city’s dynamic growth but also to create a space where the community and visitors can enjoy a diverse and engaging experience.

“We’re committed to ensuring that the new container village will be a place where both existing and new traders can thrive, enhancing the overall market and ensuring it remains a key attraction in Leeds. We look forward to working closely with the council and local stakeholders to make this vision a reality.”

Recent enhancements at the market encompass an ongoing £10m initiative to restore, preserve, and enhance the 1875 ‘blockshops,’ the oldest surviving structures on the site. Phase one of this endeavour concluded in August last year, with the second and final phase presently underway.

The blockshops project followed the establishment of the acclaimed Market Kitchen street food hall and event space as part of a £14m refurbishment.

Additionally, the council has secured planning consent for a new hotel and gym on the George Street side of the Grade I listed market building.