Huge events building in Sheffield city centre set to boost culture and shopper numbers
A multi-million pound events building on a prime shopping street in Sheffield will make ‘culture as easy to access as buying bread from M&S’.
Sheffield City Council is about to complete the purchase of 20-26 Fargate, the former Clintons card shop opposite Marks and Spencer, The Star can reveal.
It will become ‘Event Central,’ a six-storey flagship for the city’s burgeoning creative sector. It is hoped the site will also breathe new life into the area after a long run of shop closures.
The acquisition and revamp of the building will consume a ‘sizeable’ chunk of £15.8m the authority won from the Future High Streets Fund to improve Fargate and High Street.
Prof Vanessa Toulmin, of Sheffield University, who led the bid, said it made Sheffield one of very few cities to have a creative industries space in its main shopping centre.
And it was vital for achieving value for money - a key demand of government.
She added: “This is a very bold move that will make accessing culture as easy and simple as buying bread from M&S. It will be home to all the quirky things that make Sheffield great.”
Retailers such as M&S and Boots and landlords, including at Orchard Square, were ‘really happy’ at the potential boost to shopper numbers, she added.
And the more a space was used, the less was the perceived problem of begging and anti-social behaviour.
Prof Toulmin said she would like to see the top floor used for music gigs and practice sessions.
Event Central could also host festival events, such as for DocFest, and acts displaced by the closure of venues. There will also be co-working space, exhibitions and a café.
The operating model had not been finalised but was likely to be a commercial and public sector partnership.
She added: “It will not be handed over to a commercial company who will drive out creatives.”
The units are occupied by a mobile phone and vape shop and a discount fashion retailer - which already has a ‘closing down’ sign in the window.
Prof Toulmin said they had to move quickly - under government terms the project must be complete by March 2024.
She was going in with architects in two weeks and a consultation would follow.
She paid tribute to the team at the university and Sheffield City Council.
“I promised people five years ago I would land something for Sheffield and I think we have. It was a joy to work with council colleagues on this. They understood the sheer determination of Sheffield, and a bit of Lancashire grit, needed to make this happen.
“It’s taken everything I have learned over the last 20 years of working with the council, academics and professionals.
“I’m a hands-on person and will have a very hands-on approach to the building.”
The FHSF funding will also pay ‘climate-resilient’ greenery, new benches and lighting to deter crime and make the space more attractive to visitors.
The top of Fargate will be reconfigured to provide outdoor space for major events, supported by modernised power and utility infrastructure. This scheme is expected to attract 110,680 visitors annually.
Meanwhile ‘Front Door Access’ to old offices above shops will spark investment in new flats, it is hoped. Currently 79 per cent are empty.
In recent months The Star has documented the decline of Fargate, which has been hit by lockdowns, the rise of internet shopping, the closure of Pinstone Street to buses, an intrusive, longstanding building site, ugly concrete blocks to combat terror attacks and an influx of drug addicts.
In August last year 10 – a quarter - of the 40 units were vacant and it was home to five banks and six phone shops, reducing its pulling power.
Since then Yorkshire Bank has left its large heritage building at the top of Fargate and the Thorntons store closed when the firm shut all its shops due to Covid. Hays Travel and Footlocker have also gone.
But the building site and scaffolding on Chapel Walk have been dismantled and there is a bright spot in the old Next store, which is having a £1.5m revamp.
The unit, at the corner of Norfolk Row, has been empty for more than a year after Next moved to The Moor.
Owner David Woodhead of Wakefield-based Woodhead Investments, is upbeat about its prospects.
Two restaurant companies had shown interest he told The Star recently. And a bakery was looking at another one of his properties: 37 Fargate, the former Hays Travel.
The FHSF revamp was set to give the area a ‘very different feel’ and revive its fortunes, he predicted.
He said last month: “We have got a food user interested in renting the whole Next building ahead of completion of the revamp at the end of October. It’s the second restaurant chain that will have viewed it and sets up the prospect of it going to final offers.
“The unit has a big frontage and a lot of outside seating and a roof terrace which is a big plus for restaurants at the moment.”
The area has seen an increase in anti-social behaviour but Mr Woodhead said the number of homeless people and beggars was no worse than any other Yorkshire town. And he was confident the Business Improvement District team and police would continue to be pro-active.
“Wakefield has got similar problems and a lot of out of town shopping centres are falling empty.
“I don’t think Woodhead Investments is going to solve Fargate’s problems but we will play our part.”