Sale of Margate Winter Gardens no longer ‘on the table’ with long lease option now preferred

Council leader Rick Everitt at Margate Winter Gardens

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Sale of the Winter Gardens in Margate is no longer an option with the preference now being an operator on a long lease, says council leader Rick Everitt.

Speaking while at the site’s main hall, Cllr Everitt said marketing by consultants Collier will aim to find a ‘best value’ proposal with a priority on the leisure uses rather than just the highest bid.

In March the council, then run by a Conservative administration, agreed that all options for either lease arrangements, operator agreement or sale for Margate Winter Gardens would be kept open

At that time there was a plea from Cllr Helen Whitehead that a full repairing lease agreement would be given priority over sale of the Grade II listed building.

A long lease option has now been given preference. Cllr Everitt said: “Sale is not on the table. We are looking at a long lease that allows us to protect the building to be used for what the community wants.

“There is no possibility of housing on this site, we are not going down that road.”

However, the council leader acknowledges that whoever takes on the building will need to spend millions to make it fit for a modern audience while still retaining cultural and heritage aspects.

He said: “The costs (are estimated) at £6million but in  the real world, over a period of time and with inflation, it is likely to be more.”

Previously a report to councillors said 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.

Photo John Horton

The surveys were carried out using a £300,000 allocation from the £22m Margate Town Deal fund. The majority of this money has now been spent on structural reports, a night time economy report and the commissioning of Colliers to take the building to market. There is no further Town Deal monies to be used towards the next stages for the venue.

A 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.

Cllr Everitt said: “Colliers have the connections in the market with the people who understand the opportunity of such a complicated building and the variety of different ways it could be used.

“It has the Queen’s Hall and the Main Hall and quite an unusual arrangement. Lots of buildings were added in the 1960s which don’t necessarily improve it, it is literally labyrinthian.

“We want to get a range of approaches and ideas and we can evaluate those against a criteria of leisure uses and heritage at the top.

“And that is a big challenge, we have to respect the building’s heritage and its Grade II listing.

“We think some of the later additions are compromising its heritage status.”

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

Cllr Everitt says it will not necessarily be the highest monetary bid that will make an expression of interest first choice, but rather the details of how the Winter Gardens will be used, even if that means looking at ways to make up any funding shortfall.

He added: “We are very clear what the public wants, they want their Winter Gardens back and as far as is possible, that’s what we want too. But we want that delivered in a way that works better for modern needs, people have different expectations now, they expect comfort, while retaining the heritage and cultural connections with the past.”

The building hosted its last performance on August 7 last year during the Margate Soul Festival before the lease was returned to Thanet council by Your Leisure and the doors were shut in readiness for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.

Margate Soul Festival was the last gig at the Winter Gardens before it closed Photo Frank Leppard

The lease hand back came after Your Leisure faced a substantial shortfall in its income as a result of Covid with trading income down by £1.28million in 2020 compared to 2019 and outstanding liabilities in the region of £8m in terms of loans for Hartsdown and Ramsgate leisure centres.

The council, as guarantor for the leisure centre loans, could have faced extra penalties if the loans were redeemed early.

Cllr Everitt said although there could be argument over whether the venue should have been closed, it was evident things could not carry on as they were without significant investment.

He said: “It was not a drain on (the council’s) revenue budget as Your Leisure were breaking even but for the long term future investment is needed in the building and at some point that has to happen.”

The Winter Gardens is currently being cleared ready for Colliers to begin marketing. Items such as artworks, posters and other irreplaceable memorabilia are in storage. Debris and goods unlikely to be needed again will be recycled or put up for auction.

Marketing is a two stage process. Firstly, operators are being invited to submit initial expressions of interest, and visit the venue on a pre-arranged open day. Thanet District Council is seeking offers from potential partners who can commit to restoring the Winter Gardens and retaining its importance as a leisure asset to the local community.

Organisations which are interested in submitting an expression of interest can request a detailed marketing information pack, and arrange a viewing by emailing Colliers at [email protected]

At the second stage, which is expected to start in January 2024, all parties who have viewed the property will be invited to submit an outline of their vision for the building and how they intend to use it. A shortlist will then be created with selected organisations invited to submit a more comprehensive proposal.

Paul Bugeja, director in Colliers Licensed & Leisure team, said: “The council is seeking a partner which can honour the history of the Winter Gardens, while also bringing it up to date and making it inviting to residents as well as visitors to Margate.

“We have seen how exciting regeneration plans for landmark buildings such as the Eastbourne Winter Gardens and De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill have revitalised coastal towns. We’re looking to secure a partnership with the vision to reignite the entertainment offering in Margate and deliver on the expectations of the local community.”

Some seating was previously sold to the Granville Theatre but Thanet council says these were surplus and between 2000-3000 seats remain at the venue.

Courtesy MWG

The Pavilion and Winter Gardens took just nine months to build, costing  £26,000, and opened on August 3, 1911.

When completed the Pavilion and Winter Gardens consisted of: a large Concert Hall, four entrance halls, two side wings and an amphitheatre. Originally the stage could be viewed from both the main hall and the amphitheatre with the ability to enclose the stage in bad weather. The accommodation was for about 2,500 persons inside the building and 2,000 in the open air.

Auction details

Auctions will take place at 10am on Thursday 23 November, Thursday 30 November and Thursday 7 December at the Frederick Andrews auction house in Maidstone. Further information is available on the auctioneer’s website.

43 Comments

  1. Who on earth is going to take on responsibility for a full repair lease arrangement on a venue that didn’t even turn a profit pre-Covid ? I can’t see any business in their right mind taking it on – even on a peppercorn lease arrangement.

    Great opportunity – spend the best part of £10m and make no money after. Where do I sign up ?

    • on the flipside, how can people expect one of the poorest councils to spend millions to subsidise a loss-making venue (and whatever has happened in the past is irrelevant, we are in the now!) ?

        • You’re splitting hairs.
          If repairs weren’t affordable – then it was clearly loss-making.
          Not sure what your agenda is here but this is good news for Thanet.
          The Winter Gardens Are categorically not being sold and will not be used for housing.
          That’s what we want isn’t it?

          • No, we want it refurbished and reopened. Not rotting like Clifton Baths.

            If only it was a decade-old art gallery instead of a century-old theatre – it would get completely new electrics from public funding!

          • maybe it was loss making becasue the management wasnt spending profits to repair the venue food for thought where did all the money we spent on overpriced peanuts go?

      • I don’t. I can’t see it being feasible for any leisure usage. Even if the venue was completely restored and refurbished, it will never make any profit. Of course Labour won’t ever admit that as they have tied themselves up in a political knot but, hey, at least the East Kent College Group have got £6m of the funding to build a college in the High Street which is going nowhere fast.

    • It was on par to make a profi before covid. And that was without any council funding. Numerous sell out shows.
      And dont forget the local school and am dram shows. Ok they are not going make money, but they were for the community which was why WG was built. To entertain the community and beyond

      • Exactly right Brian, on both accounts.

        Public toilets, lifts down to beaches, and flowers in parks don’t make a profit. However, SOME councils still manage to maintain them (and before anyone blaims Tory cuts, even in the 70s these things were starting to rot!).

      • But is this “on par to make a profit” solely in terms of the wintergardens as a single venue , leisure force as a whole or sufficiently profitable to actually cover at least a portion of the repairs required ( if nothing else you’d expect leisure force to be able to cover theadditional expenses that have arisen since they too kon the place)
        But given that leisure force is little more than a financial instument to notionally make TDCs leisure assets seem viable , the whole escapade was little more than kicking the can down the road.
        The wintergardens may well be a viable venture if you ignore the costs of repairing and maintaining the building , but that can only happen if there are other sources of funding to keep it in good order. The decision to skimp on maintenance and repair was first taken decades ago, the cumulative deterioration, wear, tear and need for updating / improvement means that the sums required are huge.
        The figures quoted in the article are laughable when you consider how much was spent on the Turner Centre , a building that was only 10 or so years old when the works were done.

  2. “will need to spend millions to make it fit for a modern audience”… you mean the type of audience that doesn’t like ceiling falling on them or toilets with water pouring in? TDC are a disgrace!

  3. Oh just demolish the poxy thing and build back better. A modern, low maintenance building with solar panels and a wind turbine to keep running costs low. Contact a leading London architect (like you should have by now) As it is, this building will always be a money pit. You know Rick, like the west stand at The Valley!

  4. TDC haven’t spent anything maintaining this since it was built over 100 years ago! In all honesty they’re a joke….they wasted £5m on bad advice re animal export which even a dumb klutz would have realised was futile as we were bound by European law then ! And now they’re asking for businesses to engage in a longterm lease …..the building is an eyesore and needs urgent renovation and we’re all now living in financially challenging times which will make it that much harder to find a investor. Your Leisure couldn’t run a …….! By the way have they all still got their Aston Martins? I’m sure I spotted one outside the nursery in Hartsdown Road which are part of the establishment.

    • TDC have only existed since the ’70s. Prior to that, it was looked after well, and even rebuilt after suffering major damage in WW2.

        • Yet, Turner Contemporary got completely renewed electrics for its 10th anniversary!! The money is obviously there, just spent in the wrong places.

  5. That is what is depressing about Thanet-In time there will be nothing. Could not imangine there closed down the grand hall in Blackpool where they have stricty come dancing. Be an uproar.

    • That’s what they did in Brighton; the West Pier was ‘listed’. i.e. they weren’t allowed to refurbish it unsympathetically. So they didn’t. I think it was the first pier in the world to get listed status. But why should we have to wait until WG disappears? Let’s just replace it now!

      • Quite right Ewan and that is exactly what will happen here. Just look at the recent history of the Motor Museum in Ramsgate.

        As per usual political egos are at play. The Councillors don’t give sweet Fanny Adams for Heritage unless there’s a whiff of a grant and then it turns them on like Viagra. Meanwhile the rest of our heritage is left to rot as evidenced by the state of the WG.

        The debate surrounding the future of the Winter Gardens has to my knowledge been going on for 3 decades and that clearly isn’t long enough for them to come up with a coherent sustainable plan.

        Moronic concepts by visionless power brokers.

  6. Hasn’t the council also advertised the old town hall in the old town on the same basis ( pay us to take on a dilapidated unloved building , improve it , use it and give it a future but never own it) has that resulted in anything? And was Dreamland not originally envisaged to leased rather than sold?

    Good luck in finding someone willing to lease a building they’ll need to put 20 million into ( or are the council going to guarantee that costs won’t go over 10 for the first 10 years ) just to get it into decent shape and then have the running costs going forward. Plus ,with Dreamland allready up and running and having the old cinema that has yet to utilised but which is in better shape and has grant money available , it’s not going to be easy to find an operator that sees the winter gardens as a viable leased venture.
    The venture needs a unicorn riding fairy godmother in possession of a golden goose and a bag full of hens teeth. Good luck finding that.

    The lease option might be “preferred”

    • Whoops, some of that got lost.

      ……preferrred, but lets see how long it is before a sale slides back on the table.

  7. Is this a case of Thanet District Council advertising The Winter Gardens for lease with ridiculous terms so that when they put it up for sale they can say they tried to rent it?

  8. It should be demolished and rebuilt. The bottom floor would have a theatre on the right and cinema on the left the top floor would have 4 different style restaurants. At the moment it’s grade 2 rubbish, it’s not worth spending a penny on.

  9. Once they start to open up this building. There going to find allsorts of issues. Dry rot wet rot woodworm rising damp ýou name it that building will have it . Only a fool in the construction industry would take this on . You would need and open ended contract as the money would drain away just like the sea outside.

  10. I have to say that it probably needs rebuilding with hotel and bars looking over the sea. Ideally a split use 1000/1500 seat theatre which can be used for conferences. It has footprint so plenty of room. No point bodging it only to fall apart in another 20 years. Sad to say but it has to go or there will be nothing there

  11. The true margate

    https://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/1836325/margate-overrated-seaside-town-exclusive

    The problem with margate/thanet is its put all its eggs into one basket, the arty community. A community that gets given money at a drop of a hat. How much of OUR money has gone into the turner centre ? 20, 30, 40 million. People say the Turner centre is a success, it cant be a success if it still needs OUR taxes to survive. A successful business is one that stands on its own two feet, makes money and profits. Turner centre does non of this.

    Now TDC what to please out the WG on full maintenance lease ! WG is now competing against dreamland as a music venue. Dreamland that was given 4 million of OUR taxes. Not really a fair playing field is it when your rival is funded by TDC and you are paying TDC to lease the WG. In directly you are paying dreamland your rival lol.

    Thanet needs to move on into the modern world, stop living in the past.

    Manston airport, the past. WG the past, train station in the middle of nowhere.
    It’s clear this 10, 15 years of relying on the arty community has worked. All it’s done is push house prices out of the reach of local people. These local people cant afford to go to shows, pubs etc.

    Thanet now has a big problem, it caters for a very sector of the community basically about 500yards within the Turner centre. It may come as a surprise but thanet is bigger than that 500 yards.

    As the Express article says in the first line something along the linrs’ stepping of the train I was met with litter on the streets. The true thanet litter, graffiti, weeds both on the road and the smell of people smoking it, drinkers, anti social behaviour.

    The art project hasnt worked now thanet needs modern industries but to get those we need modern infrastructure. Which isnt going to happen.

    Thanet tried to become St Ives put failed because it only attracts a certain type of person. Other areas offer so much more.

    • While I largely agree with the article, it’s a shame they didn’t mention how bad the High Street is.

      As for the WG, it brought far more people to the town than the publicly-funded and free-to-enter Art gallery ever did.

    • Fine-let’s not support the arty movement. Then what- go back to filling out streets with refugees and people fresh out of jail?? Art is a big employer nationally and it covers a wide spectrum. Design, digital, graphics, publishing- It has seen a lot of small scale businesses doing stuff like this that puts money into the area. It’s not all about Turmer but that did act as the catalyst. It’s what seaside towns around the country have all been doing- some better than others.

  12. Then again – The white house in washington had to stripped down to brick work as it was going to fall down-so president Trueman had to move out when work was being done.

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