The council hopes to add vibrancy at ground floor level. Credit: via Creo

Sunderland takes control of former department store

Council ownership will enable improvements at Jopling House’s ground floor and the upper levels, converted to student living five years ago, the local authority said.

Jopling House – which occupies a prime position between Riverside Sunderland and Sunniside – has been bought by the council in a move it describes as being “vital to ensuring the building contributes positively to city regeneration”.

Sunderland hopes to attract smaller retailers and or food and drink outlets to a revamped ground floor, while the local authority said it will also invest in the upper floors, including the improvement of the external fascia which was left unfinished by the previous owner.

The acquisition will allow the council to maintain the current use of the building, after suggestions the building could be sold and repurposed.

Jopling House is currently divided into 140 en-suite apartments, specifically targeting students looking for accommodation close to campus. It is understood that the site’s previous owners were engaged in discussions that could have seen it move away from student accommodation.

Cllr Kevin Johnston, ‘dynamic city’ cabinet member at Sunderland City Council, said: “Our residents deserve a city centre they can be proud of, and – wherever we can impact on that – we are delivering.

“Council-led developments like our City Hall, The Beam and the multi-storey car park at Farringdon Row, are raising the bar in the city centre and, in turn, this pushes others to do the same.

“We cannot buy or develop every single building in the city centre, but what we can do is nurture an environment in which our traders are given the best possible chance of success, by ensuring the right developments move forward and with our plans for Sunniside – which will see the development of a new cluster of creative studio-homes – we want to knit this into the transforming Riverside Sunderland area and ensure the quality of offer in the city centre is as high as possible.”

The project is intended as a bridge between Sunniside and Riverside Sunderland, where 150,000 sq ft of office by funded by L&G – probably the North East’s only grade A completions for 2024 and 2025 – will complete early next year.

Lettings have also begun at the Sheepfolds Stables leisure hub.

Cllr Johnston added: “It is important, in the context of our hugely ambitious aims for the city centre, that this site attracts the right kind and level of ongoing investment, to keep pace with the quality of development we are bringing forward elsewhere in the city, and in Sunniside and High Street West.

“We do not plan to make any changes to the use of the building but will look to drive investment that will regenerate its ground floor, creating a vibrant high street that complements the transformation underway on the doorstep. We’re determined that Riverside Sunderland is a stimulus for a whole-city-centre regeneration and that we connect surrounding areas into it.”

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