According to Aberdeen Civic Society:
Union Square has a strange 'Potemkin Village' aspect between 3-6 pm on a Thursday afternoon; large, brightly-lit shops, not many customers inside, fewer still actually exchanging money for goods. By contrast, the Apple shop is full of people, but most treat it as a free amusement arcade
The very large city-centre site which hosts Union Sq would much better have been utilised as a marina (IIRC plans were drawn up in the late 90's - maybe I dreamt it); the site for the new community stadium and/or concert arena (mass attendance venue alongside transport hub - joined up planning!) or even returned to being the tidal estuary of the Denburn (which it was until the 1880's). But without doubt, the best use for this site was what it was originally created for; the reason the estuary was drained. This was a rail-freight and rail-engineering hub, fully integrated with the sea-port. It is uncontroversial to point out that rail transport has a bright future these days. In that context, the recent destruction of this huge piece of rail infrastructure seems short-sighted at best.
The business practices of Hammerson Developments (owners of Union Sq) used in attracting tenants to the development are probably the aspect of the mall most harmful to Aberdeen in the short-term. All of the large retailers which have chosen to occupy units in the mall are there rent-free for a year. The blight that this has caused in other areas of the city centre is clear to all those who have eyes to see. It will be interesting to see what happens when the rent-free year expires.
The mall is not nice inside. It's unoriginal rubbish badly done; you could be anywhere. It has been designed out of a catalogue by accountants. Cheap materials and a poor standard of finish typify the approach to this development which was thrown up with unseemly haste. Being in Union Square is like being in an underpass. It's alienating and dehumanising.
According to Aberdeen Civic Society, we should go and see Dundee's new Overgate redevelopment if we want to see a decent shopping mall which has original charm and quality and actually integrates with it's immediate and wider location.
Their new(ish) Overgate retail mall is approximately similar to Aberdeen's Union Square, but is much better integrated with the surrounding city centre, whereas Union Square is out on a limb, almost like an offshore island relative to the traditional retail heart of Aberdeen. We would guess that the Overgate mall attracts customers into Dundee city centre, to the benefit of shops etc outside and around the mall, whereas we suspect that Union Square subtracts from business activity in Aberdeen city centre.
Both it and Glasgow's recent Buchanan Galleries knock Union Sq into a cocked hat for quality of design. But still, they do contain the same identikit crappy shoppies selling the same crappy products to the same over-indebted advertising-conditioned consumerist automata - is this what is meant by 'aspirational'? I note that there's been a 'surprise' 24% decline in burglary in Aberdeen since 2008. No surprise to me: 'What's the use of robbery when nothing is worth taking?'. It's all crap.
The 'themed' restaurants upstairs at Union Sq make me laugh. One of them appears to celebrate the conquest of the Inca. So false is everything about it that the laminate photocopies of wooden floorboards which they have glued to the concrete floor actually include *cigarette burns*! (The irony being, of course, that smoking was banned in public spaces long before the building was constructed). The standard of food seems to be an afterthought (non-thought, actually). Maybe one day we'll get a 'restaurant' themed restaurant.
There is one civic aspect which Union Square contributes to Aberdeen which is unparalleled. The view over the harbour from the top-deck of the car-park is panoramic and dramatic. Go and see - well worth it. More on this later...