Ownership of the freehold of Dreamland has today (Monday 21 December ) transferred from Thanet District Council to the current lessee and operator of the park, Sands Heritage Limited (SHL).
SHL previously held a 99 year lease but the sale means the firm, under hedgefund Arrowgrass, now owns the freehold.
Arrowgrass bought out Dreamland shares to bring the park out of administration in 2017.
On August 1,2019, Thanet council Cabinet members approved in principle the sale of the freehold for the entire Dreamland site -including the council car park– subject to agreement from external funders regarding the removal of ongoing grant obligations upon the council, and subject to legal advice.
The sale, one of the biggest asset disposals in Thanet council’s history, includes the TDC restored Dreamland cinema and Sunshine Café building, containing the ‘Dreamland Bars’, later famous for being the ‘Bali Hai’. The terms include a restriction prohibiting housing development at the site for 10 years to tackle any possible planning application for development outside of leisure uses.
Last year a recommendation to extend the ban on development from 10 years to 18 years – when the obligations for Heritage Lottery funding expires- was rejected by councillors.
The council has owned the Dreamland site since September 2013 following a Compulsory Purchase Order which was a catalyst for the re-opening of the reimagined amusement park in 2015.
The decision to sell was made last year by the then Conservative-led council. At the time Labour raised concerns over how the heritage assets at the park would be protected and members said they did not believe it was in the best financial interests of the council to sell the income producing car park.
However, the 400 space car park will be transferred to SHL under a two part sale process. The car park is currently in short term use, under a 6 month lease, as a Covid testing site. The council will complete the sale of the car park at the end of the lease in the spring.
Leader of Thanet District Council, Cllr Rick Everitt said: “This is a significant milestone for Thanet and marks the successful completion of the council’s bold move to CPO this iconic seafront site. The council’s intervention had widespread community support and was absolutely necessary to protect Dreamland and its important heritage assets, which had fallen into considerable disrepair.
“We believe the council’s actions have given Dreamland the best possible chance to be central to Margate’s future, as well as a much loved part of its past.
“Funding by the council, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery Heritage Fund has enabled transformation of this important heritage attraction, and we’ve already seen thousands of visitors head to our original seaside resort as a result.
“Sale of the entire complex will unlock the continued regeneration of other parts of the site and provide more opportunities for further investment and expertise that the council would simply not be in a position to provide, while protecting the elements that matter most to our residents and visitors.
“It is critical that we do all we can to support the local economy with many businesses affected by the widespread impacts of COVID-19. Today’s sale is the culmination of many years of hard work and I’d like to thank everyone involved for their support, in particular The Dreamland Heritage Trust, who have been a key part of ensuring that Dreamland’s heritage is protected and developed.”
Andrew Baker, Acting Chair of the Dreamland Heritage Trust said: “The Dreamland Heritage Trust consider that the sale of the Dreamland site should lever further investment into the site which will ensure that Sands Heritage Ltd. keeps growing Dreamland into a thriving business at the heart of Margate’s regeneration.
“Throughout the sale process we have been working with SHL, Thanet District Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to ensure that the heritage aspects of the park are retained and enhanced, both now and in the future.
“Following the sale of the Dreamland site we have reached an agreement with SHL as to how our two organisations will work collaboratively in the future. In this way the uniqueness of Dreamland – its heritage – is protected and grown in tandem with this new chapter of the Dreamland story.”
Conditions are attached to the sale to ensure that the listed heritage structures are protected and a restrictive covenant is in place to control future use of the site and retain this for leisure, in line with planning policy.
External legal advice regarding the process has been sought and Thanet council says two independent valuers were identified to ensure that the proceeds raised from the sale provide best value for the council tax payer.
The council’s obligations to the external grant funders have also been removed.
SHL plans include establishing a new seafront hotel and conference facilities. Hotel plans were submitted by Dreamland parent company Margate Estates and approved by Thanet council last year.
Last year Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley told The Isle of Thanet News that the aim was to look at ways to increase the number of hotel beds in Margate and to hold more events out of the main season, creating a 12 month business and the permanent employment associated with that.
Today she said: “We are delighted to announce the transfer of the freehold of the Dreamland Estate from Thanet District Council to Sands Heritage Ltd. We are confident our investment will be a catalyst in generating a positive seismic shift for Margate’s local economy.
“We are passionate about Margate and having committed significant investments already into the Dreamland estate, we know for Dreamland to succeed it is essential for Margate to attract domestic and international tourists as well as business trips all year round.
“Margate’s current economy is largely dependent on spring and summer visitors and our plan now is to build a business that supports Margate and Dreamland to benefit from extending leisure and business visitation into 365 days of year.
“Once the planning phase of the renovation is complete, we look forward to sharing the detail of our exciting plans.”
The park is currently shut with 52 members of staff laid off earlier this year due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The amusement park had been due to hold its 100th anniversary celebrations this year.
Dreamland investors Arrowgrass Capital Partners made the decision to shut down its master fund last year after a slump in capital and requests from investors to withdraw funds, according to a report by Bloomberg news. It comes on the heels of a legal wrangle over the exit of a senior executive.
Arrowgrass made an investment of circa £25million prior to Dreamland’s second reopening in May 2017.
Further Arrowgrass investment, including the purchase of flats in Arlington House, and discussions to take on the freehold and properties surrounding the park, followed.
Properties at Arlington flats, Marine Terrace and Belgrave Road are held under various branches of AG Propco Margate Ltd.
It is believed Arrowgrass could sell off current loans made to the park to another hedgefund.