Preston’s Guild Hall could be sold into private hands as a group led by multi-millionaire Simon Rugby is poised to put in a bid to own and run the building.Advertisement
Branded ‘The Renaissance’, Mr Rigby’s partners include The Lowry in Manchester and the University of Central Lancashire.
The Rigby bid, proposed under his company The Villa, wants to revolutionise the Guild Hall and also build a huge hotel behind the venue on Lord Street.
Preston City Council asked for bids from private sector groups to own or buy the Guild Hall as it currently operates with an annual loss of £1m.
They put the venue out for ideas in early August saying they wanted to see an “innovative and commercially viable” model for the Guild Hall.
The Villa bid says they want to “create a contemporary regional centre for professional and amateur threatrical, art, leisure, sport and educational activities.”
Mr Rigby says the involvement of the Lowry team in Salford will bring considerable prestige and experience to attracting a “wide range of theatrical and entertainment events to the Charter Theatre and Guild Hall.”
UCLan are set to be involved by using significant parts of the remodelled facility for performing arts and other courses, and have indicated they could move some of their teaching to the first-floor of the building.
The project hinges on whether the city council would let Rigby and his partners acquire the freehold or a long leasehold for the building.
In the proposal documents, drawn up by the Frank Whittle Partnership, it states one third of any net profits from the Guild Hall would be returned to the Town Hall coffers.
Mr Rigby’s relationship with the city council was tested earlier this year when his “white knight” bid for Preston Bus Station, of £1, was rejected by the council’s cabinet.
Mr Rigby said: “The Guild Hall is a unique venue, that if lost would be a travesty not just for our generation but our children and their children. The venue requires a clear vision and much TLC to regain its position as a world class entertainment mecca and conference venue.
“That’s why I have brought together a collective that could transform the venue and area to create a unique offering for local residents and attract people from across the globe.”
Preston City Council said they had received offers for the building and were in talks with a number of other interested parties.
Leader of the city council, councillor Peter Rankin, said: “”We’ve done some ‘soft’ market testing to explore the potential for the future development of the Guild Hall and recently showed a number of interested parties around the Guild Hall including Simon Rigby.
“Four submissions have been made have been made by interested parties. This is extremely encouraging.”
“As a result of the very keen interest shown by a number of parties we have been much encouraged and there will be a report to cabinet on a way forward early next month.”
Professor Rod Dubrow-Marshall, UCLan Pro-Vice Chancellor, said: “UCLan is open to discussions with bidders such as Simon Rigby about potential possibilities for the future use of the facility but we have not committed ourselves to any particular development of the Guild Hall at this time. We are interested in any bid which potentially preserves the future of the Guild Hall; a venue that we and our students really enjoy using for our graduation ceremonies.”
A key part of The Villa proposal is a transformation of the Lord Street area with the demolition of existing buildings to create The Guild Hotel.
The space-age designs include the hotel being connected directly to the venue by a footbridge.
Mr Rigby’s proposal states the city centre needs a quality hotel and it’s backed up by a recent council survey which showed hotel occupancy in the city has room for expansion.
The 4-star hotel would offer inclusive breaks for people staying to watch events at the Guild Hall.
However, the creation of the hotel will not make or break the bid – Rigby and co say the offer on the Guild Hall is not dependent on the hotel being built.
The Villa proposals plans for the Guild Hall itself include a multi-million pound enhancement scheme, including clearing away many of the shops of the ground-floor.
They want to see a range of cafes, bars, pop-up events exhibitions replacing the “dated” retailers.
The entrance-way into the building will also not be by a “gloomy tunnel” but they will open up the space to try and create a “busy bustling concourse/food court” with “continental style ambience”.
Plans for the Guild Hall have been submitted to councillors and it is now down to the city council to make a decision on what to do with the building.
What do you think of the proposals? Does Rigby’s plans sound like a go-er? What should the council do? What do you think of the city centre hotel? Let us know in the comments below