Restorations - Revamp of former Topman opens door to hundreds of office workers in Sheffield city centre
Hundreds of people could work in offices in a former shop in Sheffield city centre thanks to a crucial new feature - a front door.
The former Topman on Fargate is being turned into an entrance to the four-storey building, much of which has been empty for years.
It is hoped it will inject potential customers into a premium retail zone which has been hit by internet shopping and Covid.
Topshop and Topman originally traded from the unit, with menswear on the first floor accessed by double escalators.
When they closed three years ago, half of the ground floor became a Superdrug. The other half was swiftly earmarked as an entrance that unlocked the huge space above.
If successful, the scheme could pave the way for more front doors to offices or flats in empty upper floors all along Fargate, helping to revitalise the city centre.
The £6.5m scheme is being bankrolled by fund manager Nuveen on behalf of the Medical Research Council Pension Fund.
Some £900,000 is in the form of a grant from Sheffield City Council. Earlier this year, it was given £15.8m from the government’s Future High Streets Fund to improve Fargate and High Street with projects that bring back shops, businesses, shoppers and workers.
The new office at 35 Fargate, next to Marks & Spencer, is called Ratoon - a new shoot or sprout springing from the base of a plant, especially sugar cane, after being cut.
Tim Bottrill, of commercial agent Colloco, said he believed it would be a success because of its location.
He added: “It’s the first of a number of projects on Fargate. Should it be successful, it will prove to landlords and owners we can do something really good with their buildings that is financial viable.”
All along Fargate, thousands of square feet of space stands empty. It is hoped front doors will change that.
Inside ‘Ratoon’, the first floor appears badly smoke damaged. Closer inspection reveals it is paint from when it was a trendy shop.
Little else remains after Sheffield interiors firm Ovo Spaces moved in last year and stripped out the fittings.
After a pause due to the pandemic, two weeks ago they started on the building work. Interior walls have gone and modern office features are being installed.
The roof, which has stupendous views over the Catholic cathedral and Fargate, will become a terrace and garden. A lightwell will be installed over the stairs and an orangery-style roof lantern will shed light directly on to the upper floor, says Tim.
He explained that falling rents and shopper numbers had helped make the scheme possible.
“All of a sudden people were realising the value of the upstairs and that they could be used as offices, flats or event spaces - as is happening in the building opposite.
“Three or four years ago having offices on Fargate would have been seen as a silly idea. Covid has changed that. Ratoon is a unique space in an amazing location.”
But life in the heart of town isn’t always easy.
Vehicles can only access Fargate early and late each day, causing headaches with deliveries, according to Lee Rimmington, site manager in charge of 12 workers.
Ideally they would have a huge skip outside, but they can only have one a day which must be dropped, filled and removed before 10am when the gates close.
Fargate may be down on its luck but it’s still too important to have a skip on the cobbles all day.
Anyway, reusing the building was the only option, says Tim.
“There’s a lot of talk about reusing buildings from an environmental viewpoint - look at all this embedded carbon. And Fargate buildings are crammed in at the back as well as the sides, knocking it down would be problematic.”
Ratoon is set to be ready in July.
The first redevelopment of upper floors on Fargate was Chapel House Apartments in former offices on the other side of Marks & Spencer.
Building work was delayed and scaffolding turned Chapel Walk into a ’tunnel’ for months, despite politicians protesting.
Now the 48-flat scheme is up for sale for an undisclosed sum. Agents Colliers estimate the ‘full gross rental income’ is in the region of £545,000-a-year.
Fargate’s other big news is the conversion of a former shop into a multi-million pound events building.
The Star revealed in July the city council was buying 20-26 Fargate, the former Clintons card shop opposite Marks and Spencer.
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 she claimed 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.”
Work is set to start in January and scheduled to be completed by March 2024.
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 has not been finalised but is likely to be a commercial and public sector partnership.