TIME’S up for Crowtree.
Council bosses have finally confirmed the massive leisure centre is to close later this year, with the city centre site earmarked for development.
Crowtree has been closed to the general public since October 2011, though it is still used by several clubs and organisations for block bookings and the council has pledged to work with them to help find new homes.
Cabinet secretary Coun Mel Spedding said the centre would close in the spring, though it was too soon to set a definitive date.
“There is a process to go through in terms of a date for that,” he said.
“Essentially, what we are doing to preparing the way for private sector investment in the city centre.”
The council’s 15-year economic masterplan makes the city centre a priority, with a recognition there are not enough people living and working in the heart of Sunderland.
The aim is to demolish the High Street West end of the building from the dividing walkway north, with only the sections above the Crowtree Road Bridges extension retained.
“That will open up the area between the back of the building and the Minster,” said Coun Spedding.
He recognised some people would be sad to see Crowtree go, but with the realignment of St Mary’s Way and work due to start on a new public square in the gill Bridge Avenue area, he said it made sense to bring the Crowtree site forward for development.
“Clearly, the building has come to the end of its operational life,” said Coun Spedding.
“There will be some fond memories of Crowtree but we have to take this opportunity to move the city forward.”
The most obvious use for the site would be to expand Sunderland’s shopping area by extending The Bridges and the council has been in talks with business organisations and the Bridges owner Land Securities.
“We have had supportive comments from the Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association and also from The Bridges,” said Coun Spedding.
Bridges manager Andy Bradley said: “We have seen a steady growth in customers and spend in the Bridges, particularly during the run up to Christmas. This of course attracts interest from retailers.
“The future prosperity and growth of Sunderland city centre is in part dependent on development sites of the right size and location to meet the needs of these investors and developers.
“The Crowtree site and adjacent Town Park have both been identified as locations offering potential for further development.”
The centre’s portfolio director Gerald Jennings added: “We know there is demand from our shoppers and retailers for larger retail spaces and we will continue to examine ways in which we can satisfy those requirements.
“We are, and always have been, committed to investing in the Bridges and we see the potential of the leisure centre as an exciting opportunity to further bolster Sunderland as major retail location in the North East.”
City Centre Traders’ Association chairman Giles McCourt said the plan to develop Crowtree had the group’s full support: “The Crowtree site is a key location with great potential to support the growth of the city centre,” he said.
“While the decline and subsequent closure of Crowtree was a great loss to the city centre, we must move with the times and look to the future.
“Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association fully supports the council’s decision to redevelop the site, even the proposal to landscape the area in the short term has to be an improvement. The location is a prime spot for expanding the retail and leisure, so is likely to attract interest from investors and developers.”
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