Brighton Hippodrome’s new owners to spend six months working with campaigners on venue’s future

Posted On 22 Jun 2015 at 10:40 pm

The Hippodrome has been bought by Britain’s biggest owner and operator of live music and night club venues.

The new owner, the Academy Music Group, has agreed to work with campaigners and Brighton and Hove City Council on a viability study for six months until December.

The move has raised hopes that the building will be restored and returned to use for music and live performance.

A stakeholder group has been formed to carry out the viability study to work out how to use the grade II* listed building.

Christmas recycling

Hippodrome Brighton interiorThe group’s members are the new owner, the council, the Theatres Trust, Historic England, Our Brighton Hippodrome, Brighton Hippodrome CIC and the Frank Matcham Society.

Matcham was the architect who designed the Hippodrome. It opened as an ice skating rink in 1897, designed by Lewis Karslake. A few years later it became a circus briefly, to Matcham’s design. Soon after he converted it into a theatre and concert venue.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones played there. Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy made appearances. Max Miller, the Crazy Gang and Laurence Olivier also starred.

In 1965 the Rank Organisation turned the Hippodrome into a bingo hall. It was known as the Mecca until it closed in 2007.

The Academy Music Group bought the freehold of the Hippodrome and some of the property around it in April. The deal was announced at the end of last week.

The company runs the Brixton Academy – now known as the O2 Academy Brixton – and the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

On Friday (19 June) Mhora Samuel, director of the Theatres Trust, the national advisory public body for theatres, said: “We are pleased to be supporting this initiative.

“The group will be working together over the next six months to find a solution that will protect the historical and cultural significance of this Frank Matcham theatre and identify a beneficial viable use.”

Campaigners had been due to present a petition to a meeting of the council’s Economic Development and Culture Committee at the Jubilee Library in Brighton on Thursday (18 June).

Instead, the council leader Warren Morgan said: “A petition with over 5,300 signatures by Our Brighton Hippodrome is not being presented today.

Councillor Warren Morgan

Councillor Warren Morgan

“It asks the council to support plans for theatre restoration and to use all available powers and its best endeavours to facilitate such plans.

“I can confirm that we are now in positive discussions with Academy Music Group, the new owner of the Hippodrome, Hippodrome House and the access yard off Ship Street.

“We have agreed to join a stakeholders group with Our Brighton Hippodrome, Brighton Hippodrome CIC, the Theatres Trust, Historic England and the Frank Matcham Society.

“The stakeholder group will work with Academy Music Group to find the best way forward to bring the Hippodrome back to life.

“The council will assist in that process by sharing relevant information for an independent viability assessment.”

One of the campaigners, David Fisher, said on behalf of Our Brighton Hippodrome and Brighton Hippodrome CIC: “This is the moment we have been working towards for the past 18 months.

“We are pleased and excited that Academy Music Group is creating this opportunity.

“However, this is not the end of the line, just the first milestone. We shall now be working hard on the business proposition with our stakeholder partners.”

Theatres at risk #1The Academy Music Group’s head of property Russell Duly said: “The Theatres Trust and all other organisations who are involved in this steering committee have our full support.”

The Hippodrome is number one on the Theatres Trust’s Theatre Buildings at Risk Register and is high on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

Last July the council’s Planning Committee gave permission to convert the Hippodrome into an eight-screen cinema complex with four cafés or restaurants, shops and offices.

But in January the cinema operator Vue pulled out of the project.

Vue’s decision gave the campaigners a lifeline but it will come at a price. The cost of bringing the derelict building back to life will run into millions of pounds. One estimate, five years ago, suggested that the figure could be at least £9 million.

The new freeholder the Academy Music Group and its main shareholder Live Nation are not unfamiliar with the figures. They leased the building in 2007.

But in July 2010 they dropped their plans for a live venue and night club there. While restoration looked costly, soundproofing was expected to add a further £3 million to the bill.

Over the past year and a half the campaigners have made plenty of noise but behind the scenes they have also been quietly doing their homework and learning their lines. Somewhere in the script, the word “funding” will have to appear.

And having waited in the wings for so long, the campaigners now have a chance to take centre stage, set the scene and even try to call the tune.

They are currently top of the bill and this is their chance to play to the audience and shape the Hippodrome’s future.

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