THE Duke of Westminster's £700m project to revitalise a major part of Liverpool city centre is already oversubscribed, months before work gets under way.
And it emerged last night that all the funding for the spectacular Grosvenor project to make Liverpool one of Britain's most desirable shopping destinations is now in place.
More than 100 of the retailers scrambling for space in the Paradise Street development will have to be turned away.
Around 157 units are earmarked for the scheme as shops, restaurants or café bars - excluding the three anchor stores - as part of the one million sq ft development. However, more than 250 potential tenants are already in the queue, with the number growing weekly as excitement builds up in what will be the biggest shopping project Europe has seen this century.
These do not include the John Lewis Partnership and Debenhams who have already signed up for anchor stores of 240,000 sq ft and 180,000 sq ft respectively, or the proposed third anchor, a 55,000 sq ft designer store.
Grosvenor's project director for the scheme, Rod Holmes, said: "We are delighted with the interest in retail units. With the serious expressions of interest, we will not be able to accommodate everybody.
"But I am sure that, with other schemes in and around the centre of Liverpool, there will be space for those who want to move in. It is a tremendous situation to be in from Liverpool's point of view because it demonstrates the emerging vibrancy."
Grosvenor was given even more encouragement with an announcement that a funding package for the whole project is now in place.
Four of the big banks have agreed to partly bankroll the scheme by covering £400m of debt. The Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC have both agreed to £125m, with Barclays and Eurohypo each covering £75m.
Grosvenor itself and a team of equity partners are putting up the remaining money of almost £300m.
Liverpool City Council's chief executive, David Henshaw, yesterday told a conference of people involved in the project to hold their nerve.
"There has been a tendency in this city in the past to see the glass as half empty. Here in the city we are now in a position to see the largest development taking place anywhere in Europe. The prize is huge and we have to hold our nerve. I remain full of optimism about the scheme which will be an astonishing exercise in the re-emergence of Liverpool. When this scheme is completed in 2008, it will take people's breath away."
Economic analysts have told Grosvenor that the potential catchment area for the scheme has a population of 2m, the eighth largest in the UK.
But before any units are allocated the company will first negotiate new homes for a number of existing traders who will be displaced by the development.
These include Argos, currently in Paradise Street, HMV and Arcadia, who run shops in Church Street.
Part of the plan will see a new link square between Church Street and School Lane to open up Paradise Street.
Around 150 people - contractors, professionals, builders and city council officials - attended the first briefing conference at Liverpool Fact Centre, in Wood Street.
Grosvenor's chief executive, Stephen Musgrave, said the 42-acre Paradise Street scheme was one of the most exciting and ambitious ever undertaken by the group.
Project director Mr Holmes said the group hoped to increase the number of residential units from the proposed 364 to help quench a growing thirst for city living.
Liverpool had the most densely populated city centre outside London, he added.
Grosvenor is to open an office in Lord Street which will become the nerve centre for the project. The company has lined up Laing O'Rourke as prospective project managers for the whole scheme.
Work will start in October, with the scheme virtually completed by March 2008. It is possible some businesses will be ready to open by Christmas, 2007.
City council leader Mike Storey said: "The new Liverpool is about to happen, and we can't wait."