Tobacco Dock aims at the moon

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The Independent Online
Gerald Ratner, former chairman of the Ratners jewellery group, is set to breathe new life into his moribund Tobacco Dock shopping complex near the Tower of London by adding several family entertainment leisure attractions.

The plan is to add "turbo rides" where viewers watch a film in a seat that moves in tandem with the action, such as cliff rides or a trip to the moon. There are also plans for a virtual reality centre, such as a Sega World.

The development of a nine-screen multiplex cinema has already been announced and should open next year.

Mr Ratner believes leisure attractions should act as a draw to shoppers and encourage retailers to book space.

Some stores groups have started to reserve space at the "factory outlet" centre where well-known brand names sell goods at cut prices.

It is thought that anchor tenants have been signed and shops should start to open on the currently deserted site towards the end of this year, in time for Christmas. "It has taken a long time but this is the final piece in the jigsaw, a source close to Mr Ratner said.

Tobacco Dock has been dogged by problems and in 1992 was bought out of receivership for pounds 12m by Bisley Properties, a private group. The plans for Tobacco Dock appear to signal an acceptance by Mr Ratner that he is unlikely to succeed in his efforts to buy back the H Samuel jewellery chain from Signet, the renamed Ratners business that has put its UK division up for sale.

Though Mr Ratner is thought to have found backing, it is expected that he will be outgunned by larger bidders which include Goldsmiths, a rival jewellery chain interested in Ernest Jones chain, and Argos, thought to covet H Samuel.

Though a shortlist has been drawn up and the candidates have received a second tranche of financial information on the companies, Signet declined to be drawn on sale plans when it announced a strong set of trading figures last week.

Apax Partners, a venture capital group, has put together a deal which would involve taking over H Samuel, Ernest Jones and Goldsmiths and installing Goldsmith's chief executive, Jurek Piasecki, as the head of the enlarged group.

However, with trading improving, it is possible that Signet will try to trade its way out of its difficulties rather than sell the businesses, though its would still need a rights issue to reduce its debt mountain.