A HISTORIC building that has been left empty and neglected in Oxford’s city centre is set to get a £6m facelift.

Building firm ISG has won the contract to redevelop the former YMCA at 6-12 George Street.

The work, due to begin in August, will involve demolishing the entire structure behind the 1891 facade, with the Victorian YMCA initials kept.

Shops will occupy the ground floor, and a redesign of the roof by London architects Project Orange means the building will contain six storeys instead of the present five.

The project includes a ‘green roof’ planted with sedum.

Owner of the freehold, hedge fund Oxford Asset Management (OxAM), is developing the space primarily for its own use, having outgrown its present offices in Broad Street where it employs about 50 staff.

The three shops being refurbished – Going Places travel agent, Internet Exchange cafe and ePlay computer games shop – have all been empty for at least four years.

ISG managing director Jonathan Kell said: “This project will transform a prominent building in the heart of Oxford from an outdated and vacant property into mixed-use accommodation with the highest specification commercial office space.

“The location and enclosed site present numerous challenges as we must not only take account of the busy street, but also respect the retailers trading in adjacent properties and contend with very restricted access.”

Graham Jones, spokesman for city centre retailers’ group ROX, said: “It’s a very positive sign of regeneration that retail is coming to the site, particularly after Jamie’s Italian has arrived further down the street, and two other restaurants across the road.

“But there are still empty premises around and I shall wait with interest to see what kind of retail comes here.”

The building was designed by Frederick Albury of Reading for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), with a gym, lecture hall, library, committee rooms and classrooms plus caretakers’ flats on the third floor. Activities included football, cricket, boxing, table tennis, snooker and billiards.

The YMCA earned rent from ground floor shops, including a leather merchants, cycle manufacturer and art dealers. In the early 1900s the building was extended to provide a new lounge, opened by the Duke of Marlborough.

Financial problems in the 1950s forced the sale of the George Street building to Elliston & Cavell, the department store later taken over by Debenhams, which is now next door.

It suffered two major fires, one in 1917 which destroyed the attic storey and a distinctive roof, with a pyramid turret, flagstaff, and tall dormer windows, and another in 1966 when it was the Clarendon restaurant.

The current planning permission dates from 2008.