LOCAL BRANDS: Potential future of former Debenhams site in Sunderland
The former Debenhams site in Sunderland on May 2019, Image: Google Maps
The former Debenhams site in Sunderland could become home to independent businesses and “a more leisure and experiential offering”, according to city retail chiefs.
The department store closed its Sunderland branch in May, after the chain collapsed at the end of last year.
Sharon Appleby, chief executive at the Sunderland Business Improvement District, this week provided an update to the city council’s Economic Prosperity Scrutiny Committee on the site’s future.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, she said she hopes future occupiers of the building will provide an offer “better than what went before”, with talks ongoing as to what will occupy the site.
She said: “Yes it has a short term impact, but in the medium to longer term it will be far better than what was before.
“We’ve only lost Debenhams and Topshop, and they’re both on that same part of the Bridges.
“There’s a lot of work going on around what may replace all of that and it will be far better than what has currently been there, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that develops further.
“That will be more of a leisure, experiential offering, a food and drink offering and an entertainment type of offering.”
The comments came after Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Edgeworth asked if work is ongoing communicating with residents to find out what they think of the city centre, and concerns they may have over stores closing.
Conservative Councillor Usman Ali argued while Debenhams are “victims of the times”, he would like to see the city try and attract another department store.
Ms Appelby responded noting the site is “too big” for another department store, and pointed to how independent businesses could help revitalise it.
She said: “There’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel in Debenhams when you will never fill that space again in the same way for retail.
“I’d like to see new up and coming local, ethical brands, which is what the future is, where you can get personalised stuff.
“You can take your aunt, you can take your pets in, you can have a coffee, you can have a cake, you can have a great meal, you can do all of those types of things in it, there’s a gallery maybe in it.”
She added the site needs to be run by someone with good retail experience and who can help attract independent businesses.
Words: Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV