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Rob on the road Monday, 14 April, 2003, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Failed centre set to shine again
Pop music centre gets new lease of life from students
What happens to those lottery-funded projects that never manage to win the public over?

Plans are still being drawn up to find a use for the 750m Millennium Dome.

And it's not the only scheme which simply failed to get enough people through the doors.

The 15m National Centre for Popular Music opened in Sheffield in March 1999, its four drum-shaped modules a spectacular addition to the city's landscape.

Efforts foundered

Within months its doors had closed. It had expected to attract 500,000 visitors a year; instead it was pulling in just 100,000.

Efforts to use it as a music venue also foundered.

"There were no running costs built into the business plan and it failed virtually from day one," says Martin Manning, who was a member of the trust running the centre.

It is hoped the student centre will provide a focus for the community

And so a landmark building in the heart of Sheffield stood empty, its shiny metal panels gradually losing their lustre.

Eventually, the Yorkshire Forward agency took over the building for 800,000 - along with 1m of debt - but it was still not clear what it would be used for.

Community action

Frustrated by the lack of action, a campaign group rose up, called Pride in Sheffield.

It wanted the centre to be used by the community, and gradually a proposal came together.

The idea was to use the building to house some of the many small arts and media businesses which had come together to form what's known as the Cultural Industries Quarter.

Students first

However, a counter-proposal was on the table from Sheffield Hallam University, which wanted to use the building as a students' union.

This would then free up the existing union building to house the university's cultural studies department, consisting of film and media studies, scupture and jewellery making.

This switch would be at the heart of a 17m redevelopment plan in the area.

In February, this scheme was given the go-ahead, and the university agreed to pay 1.85m for the centre.

It will help put the fizz and sparkle back into this part of the city

John Palmer, Sheffield Hallam University
There was disappointment among protesters, but they agreed it was better to have the building in use than to continue standing empty.

"The students are committed to allowing public access to the building," says John Palmer of Sheffield Hallam University.

"We've got lots of space to do drama, folk clubs, music events and there's exhibition space in here."

The university sprawls across the city centre, housing 28,000 students and employing 3,200 people.

It's hoped the centre can provide a focus for the community and also help boost the economy in the area.

Something for business

But business is looking to gain as well.

Martin Manning now heads the agency responsible for developing the Cultural Industries Quarter.

"We can start to link together students and businesses and the expansion of business space," he says.

"It's an iconic building and we've got to try to make sure that there's a broader partnership that sees the building contributing as more than just a students' union."

Sheffield Hallam's John Palmer is optimistic.

"We think it will help put the fizz and sparkle back into this part of the city and help with the regeneration of the Cultural Industries Quarter," he says.

"It's great to see some life coming back into it, and it being used by the people of Sheffield again."

Those people have got used to seeing this costly white elephant squatting forlornly in their city.

They just want to see it used again - as long as it doesn't lead to another well-publicised failure.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Pittam
"Sheffield won't want another failure on its hands"
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