Why £6.5m hotel will finish Sheffield tower scheme at last and bolster city centre ‘link’

Velocity Tower in Sheffield - the site of a new Ibis Hotel due to open in 2019. Left to right - Nick Fenton of Whittam Cox, senior cost manager Nick Manning of Turner & Townsend, Jon Munce of Queensberry on behalf of Select Group, Alexis Krachai of the Sheffield Property Association and Andrew Davison of Queensberry on behalf of Select. Picture: Dean Atkins
Velocity Tower in Sheffield - the site of a new Ibis Hotel due to open in 2019. Left to right - Nick Fenton of Whittam Cox, senior cost manager Nick Manning of Turner & Townsend, Jon Munce of Queensberry on behalf of Select Group, Alexis Krachai of the Sheffield Property Association and Andrew Davison of Queensberry on behalf of Select. Picture: Dean Atkins

Velocity Tower – a steep 22-storey block of 169 flats beside the St Mary's Gate roundabout on the edge of Sheffield city centre – suits its name.

But the glass-panelled building was supposed to shoot even further into the sky.

An artist's impression of the new Ibis Hotel next to Velocity Tower at St Mary's Gate in Sheffield. Picture: Whittam Cox

An artist's impression of the new Ibis Hotel next to Velocity Tower at St Mary's Gate in Sheffield. Picture: Whittam Cox

Planning permission was granted 10 years ago for a 30-storey structure, but construction work finished early at 21 floors and the firm behind the project, Velocity Estates, later went into administration.

A student accommodation complex next door remained unbuilt - but now the prominent scheme, bought by the Dubai-based Select Group, is finally set to be brought to completion.

Proposals have been approved by Sheffield Council for a new £6.5 million Ibis hotel that will sit beside Velocity Tower using an existing podium that would have been used for the original tower's second phase.

"I think it'll do really well," says Nick Fenton of Whittam Cox Architects, which drew up designs for the budget hotel. He points to a terracotta-clad building close by. "That's Premier Inn - and that's really well-subscribed, especially on match day," he says, nodding in the direction of Sheffield United's Bramall Lane stadium. "So I think it just made sense to add another one."

The foot of Velocity Tower in Sheffield - the site of a new Ibis Hotel due to open in 2019. Picture: Dean Atkins

The foot of Velocity Tower in Sheffield - the site of a new Ibis Hotel due to open in 2019. Picture: Dean Atkins

The landlord tried to temporarily move residents out of the Velocity apartments during refurbishment works, but struggled to find space for them at Premier Inn, he recalls. "They couldn't get them in next door because it was full."

Whittam Cox is a member of the Sheffield Property Association. The Star is focusing on the mission of the SPA – which aims to be the ‘collective voice of property in Sheffield’ – through a series of features looking at major ventures. In each case, members – a diverse 46-strong group including developers, both city universities, planning consultants, solicitors and agents – are contributing in a professional capacity.

Bar the busy Waitrose supermarket, the area around St Mary's Gate has not previously attracted much attention, says Alexis Krachai, the association's chief executive, watching as window cleaners with a head for heights abseil down the side of Velocity Tower, making the glass sparkle. "I think it's fair to say it's probably been a bit of a dead space between the city centre and Ecclesall Road." 

But things are changing. Ecclesall Junction, a £40m scheme of student flats and shops that will replace an old car showroom, is taking shape next to Waitrose, ready for completion in 2019.

"The big thing from the property association's perspective is the increasingly tight link between the city centre and Ecclesall Road. It just gets more activity down here,” says Alexis.

The seven-storey hotel will have 126 beds and should open in December next year. A coffee shop will be created on the ground floor along with the reception, and 14 parking spaces are to be provided. The construction contract has been awarded to Nottingham company J Tomlinson.

The podium is presently being used as a car park, a squat structure covered in black and grey cladding. The student accommodation, which won planning consent, would have reached 18 storeys, containing 41 cluster flats.

Nick agrees Ibis's arrival represents the scheme's culmination at last. "The planners are extremely keen for that to happen. They worked hard with us, and helped and assisted all the way through."

He worked for the Velocity Tower's original architects. "It was meant to be 30 storeys. They've still got consent for it, but Select Group are not going to take that any further."

An application for 36 storeys was submitted at one stage, but the bid was turned down as it would have trumped St Paul's Tower, which remains Sheffield's tallest building, although momentum is gathering behind Sheffield Hallam University’s ambition for the 37-storey Sheaf Tower opposite the railway station.

Velocity Tower was put on the market in 2011 with a price tag of £10.5m. Monthly rents for flats start at £550 today.

"Select have come in, tarted the whole building up, finished level 21 and they're now pushing forward with the hotel," says Nick.