IT is the beginning of the end.
Work has begun to demolish Crowtree Leisure Centre.
Facebook campaigns to save the city centre building have failed and most of it will soon be razed to the ground.
Contractor Willmott Dixon has started removing materials from inside the centre, before the roof and walls can be pulled down.
As there will be little exterior evidence of the work until September, Sunderland City Council said it thought the walkway between City Park and The Bridges could remain open during this phase of the work.
However, tests have confirmed that it is not safe to keep the walkway open, so it will close until further notice from tomorrow.
“It is unfortunate that some people will be inconvenienced by the walkway closing,” said cabinet secretary Councillor Mel Speding.
“We hope people can understand that our primary concern is that the site is safe for everyone, while the work to demolish Crowtree is carried out.”
Councillors gave the green light to demolition plans last month, that will see the section of the building to the north of the walkway brought down.
The remaining part of the centre will be retained, including the first floor space above retail units in the Bridges Crowtree Mall, which the council believes offers the potential for future development opportunities.
Speaking after taking the decision, Coun Graeme Miller said: “For years, as a local authority, we have been criticised for not looking to develop the city centre. This is part of our plans to do just that.”
It is hoped the move will open up further development opportunities in the city centre. Council bosses are convinced the area is in “the ideal location to attract a significant retailer that will further improve the offer for shoppers in Sunderland as well as to create jobs”.
A report outlining the plans said: “The future prosperity and growth of the city centre is in part dependent on the availability of development sites that will meet the modern day requirements of investors and developers.
“It is important sites are readily available and free from planning and development risk that deter development interest.”