Campaigners’ Hippodrome plans begin to take shape

Posted On 02 Nov 2015 at 11:18 am

Campaigners’ plans to buy the Brighton Hippodrome and turn it back into a theatre are rapidly taking shape months after its former owners’ plans to turn it into a cinema bit the dust.

Hippodrome Brighton interiorA viability study commissioned by the Our Hippodrome campaign, Theatres Trust and others has recommended creating a “truly unique” venue, returning it to its variety roots.

The campaign, which has also created Brighton Hippodrome community interest company, wants to see a wide range of events held there at all times of the day, including caberet, theatre, dances, comedy, snooker tournaments and wedding receptions.

And it says would also help kick start the regeneration of Middle Street and Ship Street by making a connection between the two.

A stakeholder group, which includes the CIC, the Theatres Trust, the city council, Historic England and the Frank Matcham Society, is now due to meet in the coming weeks to discuss options.

A news bulletin on the Our Hippodrome website says: “The first objective is to acquire the freehold and then do the necessary remedial work to make the buildings weatherproof and safe.

“The phase will result in a versatile ‘arena’ in the main Hippodrome auditorium, with a flat floor that will provide a flexible, adaptable space with modular seating.”

And it quotes the Colliers report as saying: “The strategy would be to make the most of the “spectacular hall” character of the building, and its location at the heart of one of the most cosmopolitan and popular destinations in Britain, to create a truly unique arts and entertainment venue. It would return the building to its heritage as a place of variety entertainment.

“It would offer both live entertainment and screen-based entertainment. It would be a social and entertainment hub operating from morning to night. It would be attractive to tourists and locals alike. It would make a connection between Middle Street and Ship Street. It would stimulate regeneration of both.”

The campaign was highlighted in the Theatres Trust annual report, published yesterday. Director Mhora Samuel said: “One of the biggest projects in the year was Brighton Hippodrome.

“Good news came in January 2015 when it was announced that the site was to be sold. Three months later Academy Music Group purchased the Hippodrome.

“All the effort the trust puts into building relationships was then realised. We were ready to act and went on to work with a wider group of stakeholders, including Our Brighton Hippodrome, on a viability study to look at its future use.

“We could not sustain this long-term engagement without the financial support of our friends and corporate supporters, whose numbers swelled again this year, and those who donated funds to the trust’s work – I thank you.”

The Hippodrome, which still tops the Theatre Trusts’ Theatres At Risk register, was designed by Frank Matcham and opened as an ice skating rink in 1897.

It was then a circus, then a theatre and concert venue, graced by both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, as well as Houdini, Chaplin, Max Miller and Laurence Olivier.

In 1965 the Rank Organisation turned the Hippodrome into a bingo hall, then in 2007 it closed. Its current owners, Academy Music Group, briefly leased it but dropped their plans to turn it into a live venue three years later.

Last year, the council 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, and it was then sold to AMG, who agreed to work with the campaigners to see if it can be restored to live performance.

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