All options for either lease arrangements, operator agreement or sale for Margate Winter Gardens are being kept open as Thanet council moves to appoint a marketing agency to scope out interest for the site.
At a Cabinet members meeting last night (March 16) the proposal to take the first steps to appoint a specialist to launch a marketing campaign was agreed.
In response to comments from Councillor Ruth Duckworth about the possibility of operators using Arts Council funding and a plea from Cllr Helen Whitehead that a full repairing lease agreement would be given priority over sale of the Grade II listed building, Cllr Reece Pugh said: “At this stage it is important that we don’t try to restrict any possible operators that want to come to the Winter Gardens.
“Special consideration will be given to any suitable bids that come forward in relation to how they may potentially want to change the character of the building.”
Cllr Pugh added that Lord Parkinson, Under Secretary of State for Arts and Heritage, has visited the Winter Gardens last Friday, saying he “really appreciated the unique character of the building.
Director of Regeneration Louis Askew said links have been made with the Arts Council in terms of the Winter Gardens project and grants could unlock further funding but it would depend on the type of organisation making the bid.
Director of Place Bob Porter added: “At this stage we want to keep those options as open as we can to see what kind of organisations come forward and bring proposals. We might be surprised; we might see some really exciting proposals come forward that we hadn’t anticipated.”
Cllr Whitehead said the rising energy and building supply costs, plus an estimated £6m which a report to councillors says will be needed over a 10 year span for repair, refurbishment and improvement costs, made the project “challenging” for external operators.
She said this shouldn’t mean losing overall control of the property adding: “I am aware that a sale would seem easier than a lease in terms of investment but I also believe it is important to remember this is arguably our most significant community asset and that our rights to determine usage and guarantee maintenance disappear the moment the building is sold.”
Council leader Ash Ashbee said the report was clear it was potential operators or buyers and sale or lease/agreement, saying it was not automatically going to be sold but “every option is going to be visited” with no preference at this point.
Cllr Pugh highlighted the recent sale of the Granville Theatre in Ramsgate as a benefit of selling council sites and seeing them refurbished and brought back into use and added all options should be looked at for ensuring the future of the Winter Gardens.
A report to councillors says an immediate cost of £2.5m is needed for structural , building and mechanical and electrical works with a further £3.5m estimated over the next 10 years and total costs estimated at £6.25m.
The detailed marketing pack will be aimed at securing an organisation to refurbish, improve, maintain and operate the venue for uses that could include a concert hall, theatre, event spaces or leisure and tourism uses.
The council has also commissioned an evening and night time review of Margate and Thanet by a specialist team from Counterculture to help inform decisions about the future role of the Winter Gardens. Councillors were told this work is taking place but will overrun its estimated completion date which would have been the end of this month. It is now anticipated the report will be ready “in the Spring.”
The Grade II listed building hosted its last performance on August 7 last year during the Margate Soul Festival before the lease was returned to Thanet council and the doors were shut in readiness for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.
Some £300,000 has been allocated from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund for the appraisal work.
The council has so far spent or committed £97,635 of the £300,000 funding, completing survey work and estimates that a further £90,000 will be required for marketing activity, leaving £112,000 for further legal costs and any other requirements
Currently, the site is boarded up with security measures including screening and fencing in place on and around the building.
Finalise the Evening and Night Time Economy Strategy – this is now scheduled for later in the Spring.
Engage the marketing agency – draft and approve marketing materials
Update Cabinet on the marketing materials and the Evening and Night Time Economy and Strategy
Launch marketing activity to identify a commercial partner/operator
Host open days in the Winter Gardens for prospective commercial partners and/or operators
Finalise prospective commercial partners and/or operators questions and the due diligence process
Review proposals for the Winter Gardens, complete due diligence processes
Provide recommendations to Cabinet
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