Last week, a top Sheffield businessman urged Sheffield City Council to work fast to secure a £100m proposal to convert the vacant John Lewis department store into ‘Sheffield Rules’ – a museum celebrating the city’s roles in the origin of the game, have-a-go football experiences with celebrities, community pitches on the roof, and bars and restaurants on the ground floor opening onto Barker’s Pool.
The building would be revamped with ‘football architecture’ including a central column to represent a halfway line and a tunnel leading to the roof. The proposal could also see the John Lewis car park replaced by a residential tower.
Patrick Abel, corporate finance partner, at Hart Shaw Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers, compared delaying the potential deal with failed plans by developer Hammerson to build Sevenstone shopping centre.
Unfortunately, there may be more questions to be asked rather than the simple decision-making process.
John Lewis announced it would not be reopening its Sheffield store in June, and with the lease due to revert to the council, it quickly appointed Fourth Street, a placemaking company which provides strategic and commercial advice to unique destinations and unusual property developments. The result of its work won’t be released until early next year, and the public will be consulted on plans.
The ‘Sheffield Rules’ plans, complete with artistic impressions of the development, have appeared barely five months after the announced closure and states that the company behind the scheme is a global sports brand. This might suggest that the idea was in place long before John Lewis announced it wouldn’t be opening its doors again.
Is the ‘Sheffield Rules’ proposal part of Fourth Street’s work to recreate the former department store? I think not. “The response (to Sheffield City Council) has been positive,” says the developer, “But they can’t commit because they are going through their own processes.”
Why hasn’t the global sports brand been named? The involvement of a credible sponsor would surely add weight to any development. Remember, there is already the National Football Museum in Manchester, and might we seriously expect tourists to choose between the two?
And, of course, there are problems that surround the empty shop. Rumours abound of its poor condition – lack of investment by John Lewis and the presence of asbestos – and without compensation agreed, any plans might be a while away yet.
Call me sceptical, but I think the announcement came too soon, and we need to know more about its integrity before we get too excited. The ‘Sheffield Rules’ idea is brilliant, I hope it comes to culmination, but we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.
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