Time for ‘different proposition’ at Guild Hall

Preston City Council has launched the search for an operator for the Guild Hall, after an administrator returned the venue to the council’s control last month.

The call-out covers the Guild Hall, Charter Theatre, Grand Hall, offices and ground floor shops. Preston City Council said it “aims to use this competitive process to find the most economically advantageous solution for the future of the venue”, working with an organisation with a strong track record and reputation.

Since 2014 the 999-year leasehold on the Guild Hall had been held by Lancashire entrepreneur Simon Rigby, who bought it from a cash-strapped council in 2014, announcing a £1m revamp. Plans designed by the Frank Whittle Partnership to improve the leisure offer were approved in 2016.

A deal to take over the Guild Hall has been in the works throughout this year with experienced operator VMS Live – which runs Manchester Academy and Eventim Olympia among others – to take on the Guild Hall, but negotiations dragged, leading Rigby to announce the venue’s temporary closure at the end of May, with administration following a week later.

Last month, the administrator appointed to run Preston Guild Hall formally agreed to forfeit the venue’s long leasehold due to “significant breaches of the lease agreement”.

Preston City Council said it is considering bearing maintenance costs as part of the lease, but details have yet to be decided. The length of the lease is expected to be up to 30 years.

The deadline for proposals is noon on 15 July.

Leader of Preston City Council, Cllr Matthew Brown said: “I am really pleased we are already in the position to look to the future of the Guild Hall. This is a crucial next step and while we will follow all necessary due processes and protocol, we must keep moving forward at pace. Keeping the venue empty is not to anyone’s advantage and we are acutely aware that entertainment programmes and the like require a significant lead-in time.

“This is a very different proposition to the one we took to market five years ago, because times have changed and we have learned from experience. We recognise the Guild Hall’s importance to the city and believe that the council has a key role in determining its future. We will ensure we are a key stakeholder in the process going forward.

“I look forward to seeing formal proposals from organisations with the experience and financial capacity to take a venue of this size on and make it thrive.”

Interested parties should email guildhallexpressions@preston.gov.uk for further details.

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