The proposed redevelopment of the Central Library and Graves Gallery building in Sheffield represents an opportunity to create a bigger and better arts venue in the city, a culture chief has said.
Campaigners have expressed concern for the fate of the library after it was announced that the council’s Chinese development partner was working on a plan to create a five-star hotel at the building on Surrey Street.
A petition with more than 8,000 signatures calling for the library not to be moved will be debated at a full council meeting next Wednesday, and there will be a public meeting on Tuesday evening at the Town Hall, where the proposals will be discussed.
Broadcaster and comedian Michael Palin, who grew up in Broomhill, said he felt ‘regret and embarrassment’ over the library plan.
But Kim Streets, chief executive of Museums Sheffield, which runs the Graves Gallery, said: “We see it as an opportunity.
“Our priority is securing the future of the gallery in that building.”
Ms Streets said there was the potential for an enhanced gallery ‘somewhere else in the building, as large if not bigger’, possibly on the ground floor.
“Over the years we’ve turned our attention to that building many times,” she said.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is the need to make the building more physically accessible. It would be great for people to access the gallery on the ground floor level. To be able to do that would make a very big difference.”
She said ‘of course’ Museums Sheffield would be making the case for an improved gallery when talks take place over the hotel. “We would want to achieve the very best we can.”
The idea of an art gallery, combined with a five-star hotel, could be a ‘unique concept’ in Britain, she added.
But she emphasised: “Everyone is waiting to hear more and it’s at a very early stage. I think the reason people are voicing their opinion is because it matters.”
In a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph, Mr Palin said: “The central library embodies the very best aspects of civic pride.
“It’s a fine building, built to give education and literacy a prominent place at the very heart of the city.
“That a building, seeking to improve the lot of all Sheffielders, should end up as a hotel for the rich and privileged, seems a sad reflection on how little the city cares for its public service legacy.”
The council is considering leasing the building to Chinese developer Sichuan Guodong Group, which signed a 60-year deal with the council earlier this year. It says the cost of repairs and upkeep is spiralling, and currently stands at £30 million.
If the plan is deemed viable, the central library would move to another site in the city centre and the Graves Gallery would stay with full public access.
The public meeting on Tuesday will run from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. Spaces are limited to the first 170 people - visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries to pre-book. Further events will be held if there is high demand.
Coun Jack Scott, cabinet member for community services and libraries at the council, said: “No decisions have been made about the future.
“This meeting is a chance for people to ask questions and influence our thinking.”