Civic Centre hotel 'will cement Plymouth's international status'
JAMES BRENT'S £50million vision for the Civic Centre will see it turned into a high-quality "statement" building representing Plymouth's growing confidence and international importance – with an arts centre attached on which films will be shown on the outer wall.
Mr Brent aims for the crumbling building to be revamped and transformed into a 160-bedroom four-star hotel within five years.
It will then be ready to welcome visitors when the city marks the 300th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, in 2020.
While exact details of how the tower will look need to be agreed with Plymouth City Council planners and English Heritage, Mr Brent wants the building to be "modern, trendy and international".
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He envisages it as "a statement of civic pride", taking forward the block's original message of resurgence and success into the 21st Century, and now cementing Plymouth's status and image globally.
"We are taking a concept and pushing forward," he said. "Because of its prominence and height it will send a statement of quality to everyone coming into the city.
"It's important to use the Civic (Centre) as a way of messaging how the city is going."
And part of the masterplan is to build an arts centre adjacent to the skyscraper, which will have a ground-breaking "metallic" outer wall on which images, still and moving, can be shown.
The technology is new to Plymouth but already "tried and trusted" in the USA.
"It won't be just a brick wall," said Mr Brent. "It can have moving and static pictures on it."
He said it could be used to broadcast or promote events, and said: "There's a lot going on in the city, and you could use it to promote visitors coming to the city or cultural issues.
"It's been extensively used in Manhattan and Hawaii."
Mr Brent – chairman of Plymouth Argyle FC and chief executive of hotel and development firm Akkeron – was this week named as the city's preferred bidder to take over the Civic Centre.
He is in talks with a major international hotel chain and plans to turn the 1960s building into a 160-room four-star hotel including bars and restaurants.
Mr Brent was unable to comment on which chain is involved in discussions, but it is understood by The Herald to be high-end Hilton Hotels. He has set up a separate company, Resurgam (West End) Ltd, to handle the redevelopment, which is likely to see the building stripped back and rebuilt.
The new arts centre is subject to receiving Arts Council funding, Mr Brent said. And he stressed that building also needed to make a "statement", particularly as it neighboured "one of the best theatres outside London". "We are a cultural city and this is a cultural quarter of the city," he said.
COUNCIL TO HAND OVER LAND AT HOME PARK
THE city council is set to hand over the freehold of land next to the Home Park stadium to Argyle boss James Brent.
The transfer will allow Mr Brent's Akkeron Group to push ahead with its ambitious plans to redevelop Higher Home Park.
The land is a paved area behind the Mayflower Stand and an overgrown area to the east of Higher Home Park, both already within the Home Park stadium lease.
Peverell councillor Dr John Mahony criticised the move, saying many people did not realise that the land was owned by Argyle because it had never been fenced off.
"It doesn't quite amount to selling off the park because Argyle already owns the lease. But I view it as a sleight of hand.
"I think the building is just too big and that is why it has overspilled the freehold.
"This is slightly less than transparent in that it is being done after planning permission was granted.
If it had been done before, I wonder whether more people would have said the development was too big."
Cllr Mark Lowry, the city's Cabinet member for finance, said the transfer was needed so that Argyle can get its stadium and the developer can build the retail and commercial units it needs to make the scheme viable.
The city will also get a new ice rink to replace the Pavilions rink, which is to be closed.
"What I really don't want to see is more development spreading over Central Park.
"I want the leisure facilities together, not taking up valuable and usable open space."
In return for the transfer of the freehold land, PAFC will pay an extra stadium rental of £30,000 a year, increasing from £135,000 to £165,000. This is equivalent to paying £360,000 for the land.
Akkeron was given the green light by the planning committee last week to redevelop Higher Home Park with nine shop/restaurant units, an ice rink, a 121-bedroom hotel, medical centre, ten-screen cinema and parking for 360 cars.
Within the Home Park stadium a new grandstand of 4,800 seats will be built, which will house another four shop/restaurant units facing on to the new Higher Home Park development.
The transfer will be considered by Plymouth City Council's Cabinet when it meets on September 3.