Should Sheffield pay £53,700 for empty shop ‘window art’?

Students strip a window on Pinstone Street to launch the Sheffield Showcase
Students strip a window on Pinstone Street to launch the Sheffield Showcase

TOWN Hall chiefs in Sheffield will today decide on plans to spend £53,700 extending a scheme they say ‘animates’ run-down and vacant shops by putting art in empty city centre store windows.

The Sheffield Showcase scheme was dreamt up in July 2009 after the ambitious Sevenstone retail development was put on hold because of the recession.

The £600 million retail scheme was meant to turn rundown streets between Barker’s Pool, The Moor and Pinstone Street into a shoppers’ paradise – but when developers Hammerson postponed the project council bosses decided to put public money into keeping the area tidy until the scheme could go ahead.

In the last 18 months the council has spent £188,000 on the “outdoor gallery” which they say helps boost footfall.

The scheme – managed by The Source training organisation but funded by the council – gives artists and designers a public display platform and gives retailers free advertising space.

But it does not come cheap. Costs include employing a visual merchandising manager, administrative assistant and apprentices, as well as paying for electricity bills, window cleaning and legal fees.

Now officers want to spend £53,708 to keep the project running until the end of 2011. That figure does not include staffing costs – which need to be found from additional grants.

A report, to be discussed by the council’s cabinet today, fiercely defends the scheme.

Officers say “vitality and interest” created by the project has led to three new stores opening in the area on short-term lets and discussions are being held about four more units.

The Lib Dem cabinet is likely to rubber stamp the plans when it meets this afternoon.

Coun Ian Auckland, cabinet member for business, said: “This project is so much more than just making a few windows look pretty.

“The project has already seen hundreds of artists, retailers and exhibitors showcase their wares and has definitely brightened up the city centre rather than simply having boarded-up windows.”

Union representatives slammed the council’s decision to spend money on “window dressing” at a time when they need to cut more than £200 million.

GMB union organiser Peter Davies said: “At a time when we really don’t know how we’re going to keep our streets clean or look after the elderly, do we really need to care about the cosmetic appearance of shops?”

But Labour leader Coun Julie Dore backed the scheme extension – although she expressed concern about lack of progress over the Sevenstone project.

She said: “I’m fully in favour of supporting the city’s businesses during this difficult economic time and feel that the outdoor gallery creates a much nicer environment in the city than empty shop fronts.”