One of Rotherham’s oldest buildings is to be given a new lease of life thanks to exciting plans announced by a local businessman.
Chris Hamby says he intends to buy and redevelop six buildings on and around Rotherham’s High Street – including the ‘Three Cranes’ – a Grade II listed timber-framed building - a former 15th century coaching inn.
If successful, the ambitious plan will result in a complex of mixed-used retail outlets including a gift shop as well as returning the medieval Three Cranes to its original use – as a real ale pub.
Mr. Hamby, who owns Hamby’s shoe and gift shop in the former Mason’s jewellers at 36, High Street, says he intends to buy and redevelop five empty properties on Rotherham High Street, along with the George Wright building that stands between the High Street and Snail Hill.
He announced his plans after Rotherham Borough Council agreed in principal to a capital investment loan to Mr. Hamby of £750,000 towards the purchase and redevelopment of the High Street site.
The loan, which was agreed by members of the authority’s Cabinet on Wednesday, will hopefully enable Mr. Hamby to obtain a grant from the Rotherham Townscape Heritage Initiative Programme.
If successful, the heritage grant will be used to refurbish 25-29, High Street - the Three Cranes; 29a, High Street - a Georgian town house that was latterly Alfonso’s Italian restaurant; and the George Wright Building
The adjacent properties, numbers 17, 19 and 21, High Street, are relatively new buildings and are not part of the THI scheme but Mr. Hamby wants to buy and refurbish them because together they make a larger development opportunity.
Forty seven year old Chris says the scheme is a “very exciting, bold and ambitious plan.”
He added: “This block of shops has long stood empty, vandalised and unloved, so I feel sure that everyone who loves Rotherham will welcome the plans.
“It has the backing of the Rotherham District Civic society and the full support of Rotherham Borough Council. The authority has been very encouraging and my sincere thanks go to the Town Centre Development Team, the Townscape Heritage Initiative Officer and the authority’s Financial Services department for their help.”
The Leader of Rotherham Borough Council, Coun. Roger Stone, described Mr. Hamby’s plans as “absolutely brilliant news for this part of Rotherham’s High Street”.
He said: “Mr. Hamby made a formal request to the authority for a long-term loan, which will be paid back over 25 years. After careful consideration by our finance officers, we have agreed in principal to that and officers are now working on drawing up a formal loan agreement including appropriate security.
“As I have said many times before, this council has to look at ways to help people and businesses for the greater good of Rotherham as a whole. This loan will do that because it allows Mr. Hamby to access lottery funding to regenerate an important part of the town centre.
“In this current economic climate the restoration of these buildings would be impossible without the involvement of a co-operative private owner who can access the lottery funding. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity and I applaud Mr. Hamby’s enthusiasm and wish him well in his plans.”
Chris outlined his plans to the Governments retail czar Mary Portas on her recent visit to the town, and she expressed a wish to revisit the scheme and asked to be kept informed of developments.
Chris said: “Mary felt it was a perfect example of how councils could work alongside the private sector in enabling growth and development of a plan that will enhance the town, create jobs and bring increased rate revenue to the area.”
Although the plans are not yet finalised the George Wright building may become a micro brewery as part of this section of the scheme. Three of the properties are Grade II listed and Mr. Hamby says they will be expertly restored with the help of heritage lottery grants.
“There has been a lot of interest shown in the remaining vacant sites,” he added. “And talks are in progress with both local retailers and national chains.
One of the empty units is already let as a top quality cake shop, and another shop will become Hamby’s Gift shop, a dedicated stand-alone quality shop incorporating what is currently only a department in the shoe store. We aim to extend the range of footwear and leather goods on offer at number 36 High Street.”
The THI scheme was approved by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2007 and made £1.9 million available towards the regeneration of properties on the High Street.
Mr. Hamby has already taken advantage of the scheme, previously renovating a block of property, including number 36, the former Masons Jewellers, along with number 32, the Zax Hair Salon and number 34, The Little Coffee shop. The other shops will be restored to the same high standard as can be seen at the other three Hamby’s buildings – with plans developed by Self Architects of Ecclesfield, Sheffield.
Work is expected to start on some of the retail units by late October. The grade II listed properties will take longer to renovate, and archaeological studies will need to be performed first. However, it is hoped that visible progress will be made soon, so the message is to 'watch this space!