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Opinion: Simon Rigby’s Preston Guild Hall venture had warning signs written all over it – but does this now present an opportunity for the city?

Posted on - 5th June, 2019 - 4:12pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, City Centre, Opinion, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, What's On in Preston
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Tony Worrall
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Tony Worrall

Warning signs have been there regarding Preston Guild Hall for a long time.

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Simon Rigby is not a subtle man.

I want to be a landlord, he said, and refocus on my core business of being a landlord. We’ve reported those actions since Autumn last year.

Read more: Vittorias in the Guild Hall to close

He could not make the Guild Hall pay and now with the venue going into administration it leaves an uncertain future.

What move next? VMS Live could be the saviour here if they see a viable venue business to run.

There has been no comment from VMS. They remain the unknown quantity, despite listing that they are planning to operate the Guild Hall on their website still.

Preston can, at times, be a major entertainment hub. Taking the surrounding population and the venue is able to draw quality acts, put on half-decent shows and sell enough tickets. But we live in a world where the mid-level gigs and concerts are being squeezed.

It’s either arenas, or sweaty clubs. Everything in-between, as we’ve seen with 53 Degrees at the University of Central Lancashire, has gone to the wall.

Preston City Council were throwing around £1million of taxpayers money down the well to keep the Guild Hall afloat before offloading it in 2014 to Mr Rigby.

Mr Rigby has clearly had enough of doing similar.

The writing has been on the wall. You only needed to look through the list of shows due to be there to see, unless you are a huge fan of tribute acts, that the venue was struggling to attract acts.

Running things in-house for Mr Rigby was clearly becoming expensive. The departure of Rick Simkin, who had done a good job in re-establishing the venue as a place bands, comedians and more wanted to play, was admirable but for Rigby clearly the margins weren’t there that he wanted or expected. He’s a businessman remember, not a charity.

Could the council step in?

The city council’s financial position has improved. But would ‘The Preston Model’ extend to buying a venue which was great in the 1970s, but is not suited to 2019 and our changed society. This would test a battered council financial position to the extreme and rub awkwardly with a city council which believes in localism and diversifying into smaller community-led projects rather than large-scale ventures. And ultimately would it be a prudent use of taxpayers money? They didn’t do a good job at running the venue previously, why would they this time?

There’s also details from 2014 which show, if the site were to be sold on, the city council would see a decent financial return – although for every year this goes on since the sale the percentage return declines. They could be due a windfall if they don’t step back in to take it on.

Read more: Your memories of concerts at the Guild Hall

Another operator?

There’s always the possibility of outside investment. An 02 Academy type deal. But the Guild Hall is not the sort of venue, with a capacity, to attract those kinds of operators or touring acts. And why did they not take it on in 2014?

Wrecking ball?

And whisper it quietly, the proposal that may well soon come onto the table is demolition.

If the city council had not offloaded to Rigby in 2014 I think this is ultimately where we would end up.

Read more: All the details of the 2014 deal when the city council sold the Guild Hall to Simon Rigby

It’s prime space. Could a redevelopment that incorporated a smaller, more useful venue for 2019, be a more viable model for entertainment in a city like Preston?

Knock it down. Accept the entertainment world is geared towards the big cities. Accept you need to get on a train to go and see the band you want to see in Liverpool and Manchester, or a major outdoor arena show.

And explore a new, alternative, community-led venue use for the site that’s able to support a diverse range of events and use of space. And doesn’t cost the earth to hire. The reality is, it may need a hotel or other privately-funded initiatives on it to make the financial case needed to make a site of that size stack up.

Preston is the most improved city in the UK in the last year. Now is the time for those charged with proving it is a forward-looking and innovative place to step up and find a solution for what should be an integral piece of the city.

What do you think should happen with the Guild Hall? Let us know in the comments below

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