Comment - New Debenhams occupier in Sheffield city centre likely to be a big surprise

Lidl’s move into the former House of Fraser building in Sheffield shows that, in property, almost anything is possible.

Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 5:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 5:12 pm

Few would have guessed 50 High Street would prove popular with a supermarket.

And even fewer would plumped for the former Bonmarche fashion shop opposite becoming a crazy golf venue - and an ‘adult’ version at that.

The market has been in turmoil for a long time due to internet shopping and Covid. Indeed, they were what did for Debenhams in May last year.

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Estate agents are reporting a little interest in the former Debenhams.

The department store on The Moor has been empty since, proving an insurmountable challenge to its new owners, so far.

One agent said there was ‘interest’ from a discount department store and a ‘leisure’ operator.

Well, TJ Hughes was a discount department store on The Moor, but it failed to survive. And leisure could be almost anything.

All the activity at the moment is on Fargate and High Street where £15.8m of Future High Streets Funding is starting to make itself felt, in combination with other cash.

A whopping £31m is being poured into ‘Front Door’ schemes to bring acres of upper floors back into use including, on Fargate, the former New Look, potentially as offices, a hotel in the Central Buildings (site of the original Coles), the former Top Man (as offices) and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, a hotel at number 26-28 High Street, the former building society next to Max Spielmann.

Multi-million pound grants from the taxpayer to private sector owners are apparently the only way to kickstart all these projects.

Welcome though they are, they highlight how Debenhams has been overtaken by events. It was still trading when the bid for for FHSF millions went in.

Now it is closed it seems no one in the public sector is riding to the rescue.

Perhaps the council could commit resources to helping MHA find an occupier. But with a dearth of leadership, several new faces at senior level, the departure of city centre supremo Nalin Seneviratne and the former John Lewis on its hands, don’t hold your breath.

Someone will come along at some point. All I will predict - going out on a limb here – is that it will be a surprise.

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