John Lewis revamp up for discussion in Sheffield
Talks willÂ be held to determineÂ how extensively the branch ofÂ John Lewis in Sheffield city centre canÂ be overhauledÂ to complement a Â£500 million development scheme.
The department store is staying put in Barker's Pool as part of Heart of the City II, the council's plan to transform 1.5 million sq ft of land between Pinstone Street and The Moor with new shops, hotels, offices, apartments, leisure facilities and cafés.
Familiar street patterns will be followed and heritage buildings restored, such as Grade II* listed Leah's Yard, a historic complex of 'little mesters' workshops that will sit beside a high-end food hall.
The retailer has backed the Â£469m scheme, and confirmed it is discussing how its premises, built in 1963 for Cole Brothers and rebranded in 2002, 'might be developed' as part of the wider project.
Stuart Harris, commercial director of real estate firm Queensberry, the council's main partner, said: "We hope there are opportunities there. But they've always said to us Sheffield is an important regional store to them, so I think the logic supports that."
Thoughts had only just turned to the scale of a potential revamp, he emphasised - "We're getting in to that now" - but Mr Harris said John Lewis would probably want to mirror its newest sites in Leeds, Oxford and at Westfield in London; reconfigured stores that offer leisure experiences rather than merely selling products.
Westfield in particular is highly ambitious - part of a Â£600 million shopping centre extension, the place opens this month and features a demonstration kitchen, three dining venues, a beauty spa, an in-house opticians and a personal styling studio.
"I think if you were John Lewis, and you looked at what they've done elsewhere recently, you would want whatever you're doing in terms of a refurb to look as close to those stores as you possibly can," said Mr Harris. "Because you're looking at how you present yourself to everybody, whether they are businesses or otherwise."
The first phase of Heart of the City II, a large block that will primarily form a new base for HSBC in Charter Square, is well under way. In total the project will create nearly 500,000 sq ft of Grade A office space - workplaces for John Lewis's 'type of customer', Mr Harris said.
Coun Mazher Iqbal, the council's cabinet member for business and investment, said a small number of improvements had been made recently at the Barker's Pool store.
"They've changed the layout of the entrances, and over the last 12 months they've been from escalator to escalator carrying out work. You wouldn't have carried out that work if you were looking at moving your store. If John Lewis decided that, actually, they're just going to do the cosmetics internally like they've done, that's fine. They're there, they've got that presence. If they want to do an external refurbishment, that doesn't stop us from doing what we're trying to do. Both of us have got the flexibility."
Heart of the City II is the successor to Sevenstone, the proposed shopping scheme that stalled during the recession and was dropped five years ago when the council parted ways with developer Hammerson and opted to go it alone. Its name has also changed from the Sheffield Retail Quarter, reflecting its new, more varied approach. The first Heart of the City brought the Winter Garden, Millennium Gallery, Peace Gardens and the offices of St Paul's Place.
John Lewis would have moved to a brand new department store at Wellington Street, on the site of Sheffield's old central fire station, under Sevenstone. But the company decided as long ago as 2012 that it was no longer seeking to relocate when progress slowed. Four years ago it spent Â£1.3m refurbishing the ground floor at Barker's Pool, including a new-look beauty hall.
The company owns the land on which its shop and car park stands in Sheffield. This year the John Lewis Partnership - which also runs Waitrose - has cut its famous annual bonus for staff to five per cent, the lowest level for 64 years, after profits fell by 77 per cent. It has slowed expansion and is investing more in existing outlets.
A spokeswoman for John Lewis said: "We welcome the scheme to develop the heart of the city centre in order to make Sheffield a more vibrant and successful place. We continue to work with the council to support their plans for the proposed developments surrounding John Lewis and to understand how our shop might be developed in conjunction with these proposals."