IN 1869 the whaling ship Diana left the Queen's Dock in Hull bound for the icy waters of the Arctic. Her later failure to return marked the end of an association with the industry that spanned four centuries and had once seen the city play host to the largest whaling fleet in Britain.
When modern-day Hull residents set out on an expedition the catch they have in mind is on a smaller scale. Retail therapy is what lures them up the M62 to Sheffield, Leeds or beyond. They go there because there is more choice to be had and the shops are bigger and brighter.
The regular loss of all that spending has a real impact on the economy of Hull. But it is far from the whole picture. In truth it is symptomatic of a broader decline over a number of decades that has left the city in need of significant regeneration in a bid to attract self-sustaining inward investment and growth. Until recently the worry of those charged with reviving Hull's fortunes had been that, like the whalers, one day the shoppers, retailers and developers would stop coming back.
But now revival is in the air. The 25,000-seater KC stadium, a £45.5 million Millennium project aquarium called The Deep and a smart regional BBC centre along with new out-of-town retail and business parks punctuate the skyline.
And it doesn't end there. Commuters arriving in Hull by train over the past few months will not have failed to notice the presence of several 50 m tower cranes casting long shadows over the station. The cranes mark the site of the £200 million St Stephen's project, a scheme conceived as long ago as 1995, developed by ING Real Estate UK Limited and due for completion as a retail-led mixed use scheme in September 2007.
Hull City Council realised that the 16.2 ha site was central, underused, had good development potential and was already in public ownership. Following marketing for the site, ING was selected to develop it in 2000.
The centre will feature 30,000 sq m of retail space straddling a 14 m-wide granite-f lagged street with a 10,000 sq m hypermarket to the rear. A 128-bedroom hotel - HBG won this contract as an addition to the original tender - sits on top of one corner of the retail units with two floors of rooftop car parking behind it.
Within the scheme and on a neighbouring plot The Albemarle music centre is also to be rebuilt.
With more than a year to go before the contract's completion much has already been achieved. Using precast and post-tensioned concrete slabs for different levels of the retail unit has helped keep up an impressive pace on a build requiring two project managers, four section managers, 12 section foreman and eight engineers for the concrete frame alone.
At the front of the southern retail unit, steel frame roof sections will shortly be going in to await their standing seam finish. Two floors of retail units at the front of the north eastern section are now having what will form the ground floor and services access area of a seven-storey hotel built over them. To the rear of the site foot pad and ground beams mark the foundations of a Tesco hypermarket.
On-site civil engineering is soon to be completed, providing road access and parking at the back of the complex in addition to refurbishment and landscaping of the dual carriageway at the front of the site.
But such progress seems a far cry from the early days of the project when it felt like things were going nowhere fast.
'A long gestation period is not untypical with regenerat ion projects of this nature, ' says Ron Savege, project director for the client's agent, Mace. 'It reflects the development and conclusion of legal arrangements relating to land assembly and the number of parties involved. These are the kind of conditions that are going to apply almost anywhere.'
In the case of the centre's transport interchange the partners included train operating companies and Railtrack, which went into administration in the midst of negotiations, emerging as Network Rail.
Cynicism and disbelief took hold in some quarters.
The main street that fronts St Stephen's is called Ferensway. A few years after the project was announced and with nothing to show for it, it started to become known in the local press as Ferenswhen .
A number of critical factors influenced the selection process for the simultaneously tendered enabling and construction contracts. The multipurpose site was littered with poor-quality materials and was crossed by services of every kind that required diversion.
'We were looking for civil engineering value and capability, expertise in sequencing and materials handling with the financial strength to see the job through, ' says Mr Savege.
Nuttall ticked all the boxes and won the contract.
Three contractors were up for the main contract for the building work. The project strategy prioritised risk management and gave consideration to the clear benefits to be enjoyed by the client by placing the contracts with companies that could work together.
As sister company to Nuttall under the Royal BAM banner, HBG made the most of its position.
John Phillips is the firm's construction manager for St Stephen's. The project is the biggest job he has been in charge of.
'With the addition of the hotel instruction to the original retail, supermarket and music centre package the overall contract now stands at around £88 million, ' he says. 'It's mostly just shell and core - without any of the expensive fit-out or pieces of mechanical plant.
'Otherwise it could be any thing between £150 million and £200 million.'
Mr Phillips' portfolio stretches back over a number of years and includes time spent on some other notable large-scale projects.
The former Aston University civil engineering student spent his sandwich year in 1980 working for Tarmac on the Thames Barrier. After graduation he was employed with A Monk & Co before joining Higgs & Hill in 1987 as a senior engineer.
As Higgs & Hill was bought by HBG in 1996 that effectively makes him a 20-year company man, the last four of which he has spent in the capacity of construction manager.
This gives Mr Phillips an enviable combination of expertise, professional continuity and familiarity all of which, as he explains, counts for a lot.
'In this industry you are only ever as good as your last job and as we all know, through no fault of your own it's very easy to find yourself in a big pile of something brown and sticky, ' he says.
'Those are the times when you need people around you who are not only colleagues, but also friends.
That's what is good about being with HBG for the time I have. With lots of our competitors it's completely different. They have transient workforces and they get teams in to staff jobs as they win them - in my view that just goes to make a diff icult game even harder.'
As well as the day-to-day business of overseeing the construction programme, he has found himself becoming more actively involved in prequalification and tender presentations. Here again the long service with his employers has helped.
'You are always accumulating experience and taking it from one meeting to the next, ' he explains.
'That's important when you are representing a company, because what is becoming more and more apparent with two-stage design and build is that you need to create relationships with the client to win work. The more confidence you can inspire the more contracts you win.'
With work progressing well at St Stephen's, Mr Phillips will now be taking a step back from the more immediate hands-on responsibilities, happy to pass them over to new project manager Gordon Alexander.
All of which frees up John to play his part in winning the firm's next contract.