Shoreham and Worthing-based business partners Paul Craig and Ralph Gilbert took possession of the building on South Street in September last year and aim to submit their planning application in early 2022.
They have revealed plans to retain the ground floor for retail and transform the upper levels into flats varying in size from studios to penthouses.
The rooftop level will feature a lounge and garden that will incorporate communal working and social spaces like office pods and a garden kitchen.
The project forms part of the wider regeneration of Worthing town centre, including the redevelopment of Beales also located on South Street.
Mr Craig, of Craig Developments, said: “We hope to be part of a relaunch of this part of town with this building acting as an anchor point for South Street. The future of the high street is bright, but it is going to be different.
“It will no longer be hundreds of square meters of shops, but will hopefully become more of a community with people living and shopping locally.
“Adur & Worthing Councils have a very positive attitude towards regenerating Worthing and going forward with developments, which has given us the confidence to take the risk and buy this old building despite the huge amount of work that is needed to regenerate and rebuild it.”
Councillor Nicola Waight, Worthing Borough Council’s executive member for regeneration, said: “While this development will have to go through the planning process, it is fantastic to see that coming out of the loss of this cornerstone department store is a plan from local businesses to revive the building and bring new life and opportunity into our town centre.”
Building work is predicted to start at the end of 2022 with a projected completion date of three years. The current plan is for the flats to be offered for rental rather than sale. The developers said this would help them keep standards high and prevent an influx of second homes. The developers are aiming for a premium finish that showcases the building’s architecture and will offer a concierge service, too.
The Debenhams building has a long history in the town and was originally built as Hubbard’s department store in the Art Deco style. Much of the building’s original beauty has been lost over the years, including during a dramatic fire in the 1940s.
The new owners will try to preserve as much of the original features as possible, including the original wooden parquet floor tiles which were discovered underneath Debenhams’ plastic flooring.
They also discovered a boarded up elevator shaft that still had smoke damage from the fire and plan to move the glass domed ceiling from the original restaurant to the top floor. Also taking pride of place in the redevelopment will be the original balustrades and radiator covers.
Plus, work is already underway to preserve the large original plaster mouldings, which will be stored off site until they are ready to be reinstalled.
Mr Craig also had a personal reason for wanting to take on this project – his mother previously worked in the store as a shop assistant and he has fond memories of visiting her there.
An open public consultation is soon to be launched, which will allow local residents and businesses to provide input before the full planning application is submitted. People can visit the Craig Developments website to register interest in the consultation.