Council seeks operator for Guild Hall

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The search is on for a new operator for Preston’s troubled Guild Hall entertainment venue.

Preston City Council has revealed it has started a “competitive process” and is looking for an organisation with “a strong track record and reputation” to revitalise the venue, which is currently closed.

The local authority stepped in and used ‘special powers’ to take back control of the Guild Hall after the company running it was placed into administration last month by owner Simon Rigby.

The move came after the Lancashire-based entrepreneur revealed he had failed to reach an agreement with a management company to take over the running of the venue.

Rigby, who reportedly paid the council £1 for the building in 2014, has also revealed he has lost £6m on the venture.

The council says it is now looking for an operator to run the Charter Theatre, Grand Hall, offices and ground floor shops.

It has announced a call out for proposals for a land deal, lease arrangement. Noon on July 15 is the deadline for proposals.

In a statement it said: “The council wants an operator who is ready and able to revitalise the Guild Hall.”

I am really pleased we are already in the position to look to the future.

The council is considering bearing maintenance costs as part of the lease, but details have yet to be decided. The length of the lease is also expected to be up to 30 years.

The decision to proceed with a lease arrangement with an operator will be made by the full council. However, the local authority also says the timetable is yet to be confirmed.

Council leader 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.”

The Guild Hall, which previously hosted performances by stars such as David Bowie and Queen, as well as once being the regular home of the UK Snooker Championships, was closed in late May.

The council’s move to retake control came after Simon Rigby announced plans to reopen it through a registered arts charity he was funding.

The local authority responded with a Special Urgency Decision to end his 999-year lease and retake control. Following the council’s intervention he said he would be seeking legal advice.

Preston Guild Hall is home to the 2,750-capacity Grand Hall and the 716-capacity Charter Theatre.