The owner of Sheffield ski village admits he feels pride tinged with disappointment as two athletes who started on its artificial slopes go for Olympic gold.
Sheffield pair James Woods and Katie Summerhayes are British medal hopes in the slopestyle skiing events at the Winter Olympics in Russia, after discovering their love for the sport at the Sheffield village at Parkwood Springs
And Kevin Pullan, who ran the village from 2007 when he bought it until it closed in 2012 after a spate of arson attacks, says he wishes the pair ‘all the luck in the world’ as they go for gold in Sochi this week.
But Mr Pullan admits he has no regrets at seeing the popular visitor attraction – reputedly the largest artificial ski complex in Europe – close for good.
He says: “Time moves on. The ski village was a fantastic business and a great success in some respects, but in other ways it was under-utilised by the people of Sheffield.
“Its success really was in developing athletes and its strength lay in its use as an elite training venue – as the Woods and Summerhayes of the world prove.”
James first tried skiing after seeing an advert for Sheffield Ski Village in The Star. Now the 21-year-old is one of the world’s hottest prospects in the slopestyle skiing category.
Eighteen-year-old Katie was an Olympic torchbearer in Sheffield two years ago and is expected to shine in Sochi this year after battling back from injuries to make the Games.
Mr Pullan, of Ranmoor, says: “I don’t know either of them personally but I’m sure I join the rest of the city, and indeed the country, in wishing them all the best this month,
“I’ll certainly be following the Games closely and rooting for them.
“However, as a Sheffield business, I just feel the ski village’s focus needed to be a little more on being used by Sheffield folk, and on recreational skiing. Too often it was the regular Sheffield folk that were losing out.”
The village has become an eyesore in recent months, with rubbish being dumped at the site.
But landowner Mr Pullan is looking to what he considers to be a bright future for the site, with a pre-application with Sheffield Council seeking permission for 70 houses to be built on the land.
Under the plans, ‘semi-affordable’ homes aimed at private buyers will be erected across the four-and-a-half acre site in Parkwood Springs – although residents have already raised concerns that a housing development would not be in keeping with their vision to create a ‘country park in the city’ in the area.
Neill Schofield, chairman of the Friends of Parkwood Springs, says: “I’ll reserve judgement until I have seen an application, but the Friends would want any development to complement the vision for the future of Parkwood Springs. I’d be surprised if people were in favour of building on that green space.”
However, Mr Pullan insists it is not the first time the area will have lent itself to being a residential area.
Nearly 40 years has passed since demolition men reduced five rows of houses – Pickering Road, Mount Road, Douglas Road, Wallace Road and Vale Road – on Parkwood Springs to rubble.
The area was home to 3,000 Sheffielders in the Seventies, and featured three pubs, two chip shops, a grocery, newsagent, cobbler and police station.
The community disappeared overnight and, except for those who once lived there, has been largely forgotten in the years since.
Pat Woodhouse, a former resident of Parkwood Springs, says: “It was a great place – everybody knew everybody and we all got on.
“Kids could play in the streets until well after dark. We were safe – strangers never came here.
“It was cut off from the rest of Sheffield by train tracks, the only way to get there was under a railway tunnel that was so low buses couldn’t get through it. I have so many wonderful memories of the place.”
And Mr Pullan says: “People forget Parkwood Springs used to be a residential area, before it was demolished in 1975 – it was almost the last area of slum clearance in the north of England.
“It was just like Walkley is now, or Upperthorpe, and so returning part of Parkwood Springs to residential use is, in my view, returning it back to its former use. I’m simply looking to bring back what was there four decades before.”
Mr Pullan, who first came to the city for university back in 1975, says that the plans are in the near, though not the immediate, future.
He says: “I think Sheffield needs every ounce of positive news it can get and I certainly consider this potential multi-million pound development positive news, for Sheffield and its people.”
Katie was due to begin competition today, with James’ event starting on Thursday.
Sheffield Ski Village was hailed as a ‘vision of the future’ – scrubland once home to back-to-back terraces transformed into Alpine-style ski slopes.
Built at a cost of £2.5 million by city entrepreneur John Fleetham, and unveiled in 1988, in its heyday it attracted 180,000 visitors a year.
The country’s top skiers would gravitate to the city just to use the state-of-the-art site. A national training centre was developed for the British Ski Federation, with a 30-degree ramp and a 60ft pool for skiers to practise twists, turns and somersaults into water.
Facilities grew to include a bowling alley and space for children’s birthday parties and even weddings.
The main chalet was destroyed in a fire in April 2012 and there have been several subsequent arson attacks. Last year, owners said Sheffield Ski Village would never reopen due to the soaring cost of insurance.