Plymouth Civic Centre to become four star hotel
THE crumbling Plymouth Civic Centre is to be "stripped to its core" and rebuilt as part of an ambitious £50million project by Argyle boss James Brent.
Mr Brent was named yesterday as the city's preferred bidder to take over the controversial building.
He is in talks with a major international hotel chain and plans to turn the 1960s building into a 160-room four-star hotel.
The top two floors, with unrivalled views over the city and the Sound, will become a restaurant, bar and roof terrace open to the public.
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If a funding bid succeeds, a new home for Plymouth Arts Centre will be built between the Civic Centre and the Theatre Royal, creating a new cultural quarter for the city.
Mr Brent's victory in the bidding battle to take over the Civic Centre will lift a huge financial burden from the city's shoulders.
English Heritage's shock listing of the building in 2007 threw the council into a state of shock and thwarted plans to tear it down and redevelop the site.
Council bosses said then that it would cost around £40million just to make the 14-storey building fit for the 21st century.
Cllr Mark Lowry, the city's Cabinet member for finance, said yesterday: "From a taxpayer point of view it removes a liability of about £50million.
"We as a council don't have to underwrite the development – it is financially viable in its own right."
He said it cost about £1.5million a year to run the building, which has very poor energy efficiency.
Council staff will be moved to new offices and Plymouth Arts Centre will get a new home on Royal Parade if a funding bid succeeds.
Meanwhile, in a related development, the nearby Derry's Clock is to get a makeover.
Clutter will be removed from around the base of the popular meeting point and the tower will be floodlit as the focus of a new, split-level paved piazza.
The Derry's Clock work is part of Theatre Royal Plymouth's £7million regeneration.
JAMES BRENT DOES THE DOUBLE WITH CIVIC CENTRE PLAN
JUST days after Argyle boss James Brent won permission to go ahead with his Home Park development – he has completed a city double.
Mr Brent was named yesterday as the preferred bidder to transform Plymouth’s Civic Centre into an upmarket hotel with a dramatic rooftop restaurant.
Mr Brent beat off competition from four other bidders with a plan to create:
A bar and roof terrace under the distinctive “butterfly” roof, and a restaurant on the floor below that.
Four apartments will take up the next floor down.
The bulk of the 1960s building will form a 160-bedroom four-star hotel operated by a major international chain. The hotel will have facilities including a gym.
New restaurants will overlook Royal Parade.
A new home for Plymouth Arts Centre, with two galleries, two small cinemas and three restaurants will be built on the open-air car park next to the Civic Centre.
The development depends on approval by the city Cabinet on September 3 and the final go-ahead from a hotel group.
Cllr Mark Lowry, the city’s Cabinet member for finance, said it was premature to confirm the hotel chain involved.
Mr Brent has set up a separate company, Resurgam (West End) Ltd, to handle the redevelopment.
The procurement process started last October after the Civic Centre was marketed as a development opportunity.
An initial four bids were whittled down to two by February.
The bids were assessed against criteria including whether or not the proposals would involve the council as a tenant, how the proposal would create jobs and contribute to city life as well as legal and financial packages.
“This is a new chapter for this landmark building,” Cllr Lowry said. “To have a high-calibre hotel chain sends out a powerful message that Plymouth is vibrant, exciting and the place to invest.
“For a number of years the city has faced the question of what to do with the Civic. We could not wish for a better answer.
“It will create hundreds of construction jobs and 360 permanent jobs.”
“It is exciting to see big investors once again engaging in Plymouth. We have got one of the best offers in the world. We just need to sell it and convince everybody else.”
Council leader Tudor Evans said: “It’s fantastic to see a brilliant project that will utterly change the city centre and the city as a destination and create hundreds of jobs.”
The council will retain a “front of house” office in the city centre, and the rest of the council’s staff will be moved to other offices across the city in December next year.
The Council House will remain as the city’s political centre, with debates continuing in the Council Chamber.
The finish of the building has not yet been agreed. That will be a decision for English Heritage, the developer and the council’s planning department.
An English Heritage spokesman said: “A hotel can probably be incorporated within the current tower, leaving Plymouth City Council to continue to use the important council chamber.
“We have long recognised that Plymouth is special because it is one of the best examples of post-war town planning in the country.
“A successful adaptation of the Civic Centre could be central to widening appreciation of the city and its 20th century architecture.”
JAMES BRENT'S PLAN FOR CIVIC CENTRE
THE Civic Centre will have to be stripped right back to its core and rebuilt, says developer James Brent, pictured right.
“We will try to retain as much as possible. But it’s not about keeping decaying concrete.
“Building work will mean reducing it to its core and starting again. That is a substantial civil engineering project.
“It would have been cheaper to knock it down and start again.”
The work will take at least three years from when council staff move out at the end of next year.
The total cost, including rehousing council staff, will be about £50million. Mr Brent would not comment on how much the construction would cost.
Mr Brent said he was “weeks away” from signing up an “international high-quality brand” hotel to move into the building.
But he said he had not yet begun negotiations over who would run the rooftop restaurants.
Mr Brent said the market outside London was starting to improve and investors were starting to recognise that.
“More and more people are beginning to recognise that Plymouth is a gem. It has been historically under-sold.”
And he was confident that there was a significant gap in the city’s hotel market.
“We have done our analysis, as has our hotel partner.
“The conclusion is that Plymouth is massively under-supplied with high quality, upmarket bedrooms.
“Liverpool has 1,770 four-star bedrooms. How many does Plymouth have?”
Mr Brent said the building was a post-war statement of civic pride.
“All of us look at the Civic Centre and see the delapidated state of the building.
“When you look at where it sits, the commanding position it has overlooking the Sound and the city centre, you understand the point the architects were seeking to make. That Plymouth was making a comeback.
“The condition is poor but the position and status are very impressive. The architects showed great vision.
“Given the prominence of the Civic Centre and the views it commands of the city and the Sound, it is a very important building.”
MIXED WELCOME FROM ARCHITECT FOR PLAN
THE Civic Centre plans won some grudging backing from Jeremy Gould, former Professor of Architecture at the University of Plymouth.
But Prof Gould, pictured right, was strongly opposed at changing the building into a hotel.
“I am of the opinion that it should be where the local authority lives. That’s what it was built for,” he said.
“From that point of view it’s an awful plan.
“The council should stay in that building and repair it and make it work – which they could.
“I am relieved and surprised that they are keeping the Council Chamber.
“A decent hotel is a good idea and having the roof open as a restaurant is an excellent idea.
“There are very good reasons for it to be a listed building: one for what it is and two for what it looks like.
“They will decide to alter the appearance and, hey presto, you will end up with a messed-up listed building.
“When they change the function they change the appearance.”
But he said the Arts Centre extension was a good idea which would get rid of the “horrible mess” of the car park.
MILESTONE IN THE LIFE OF THE CIVIC CENTRE
THE 14-storey Civic Centre in Armada Way was the final act in the rebuilding of Plymouth after the Second World War.
September 1, 1941: Within six months of the destruction of the centre of the city the council agrees that a redevelopment plan should be prepared.
September 1943: James Paton Watson, the City Engineer, and town planner Sir Patrick Abercrombie complete ‘A Plan for Plymouth’.
June 1950: A site is allocated and a study was carried out to find the amount of office space needed.
1954: Proposals of city architect, Hector J W Stirling accepted. 1957: Contract for excavations and foundations signed and Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge appointed as architects.
January 1958: Excavations begin.
August 1958: Building work.
November 2, 1959: Work starts on Council House.
March 21, 1962: (21st anniversary of the destruction of the old Municipal Offices), Council House and Municipal Offices are officially handed over to the Corporation.
July 26, 1962: Queen officially opens the Civic Centre. Cost £1,600,000 (£100,000 for purchasing the site). The Rooftop Restaurant on floor 14 sat 80 people. It was closed to the public after the end of the 1975 summer season because of fears that it was a fire hazard.
June 7, 2007: Council says Civic Centre will be sold to Exeter-based Rok Developments to be knocked down and replaced by a mixed-use development.
June 22, 2007: Civic Centre given Grade II listed status.
NEW ARTS CENTRE AS PART OF PROPOSAL
AS PART of the Civic Centre development, Plymouth Arts Centre will get a new home facing Royal Parade.
The three-storey building will be built on the existing open-air car park behind the Civic Centre, and linked to the new hotel through an elevated walkway.
It will have three restaurants on the ground floor, galleries and exhibition space, and two small cinemas.
The new arts centre will depend on winning a funding bid put together by the developer.
Andrew Brewerton, chair of Plymouth Arts Centre, said: “People visited the British Art Show in 2011 in their thousands, and the arts are at the centre of education and community transformation in our city.
“A new venue for Plymouth Arts Centre will develop and attract new work of national and international significance, bringing more visitors to the city from far and wide.
“It’s good news for our cultural economy and for Plymouth.”
Kate Foster, head of communications and development, said: “We will certainly have to raise some sums of money from various sources, including the Arts Council.
“We will also be looking at a public appeal.
“We have been in discussion with Akkeron about Plymouth Arts Centre being part of the redevelopment of the Civic Centre for some time.
“For us, this would mean bigger and better spaces for contemporary art and cinema.
“For Plymouth it is a really exciting time at present with the redevelopment of the Theatre Royal, and the new School of the Creative Arts.
“The redevelopment picks up the legacy of the 2011 British Arts Show.
“Added together we are looking at a substantial, exciting transformation of the city.”
James Brent, the developer, said the Arts Centre would depend on grant funding.
“Until we’ve applied we won’t know for sure what the answer is.”
His proposals will see the Civic Centre extended along the line of Royal Parade in line with the original Stirling design, and Mr Brent said: “We will definitely go ahead with that.
“The Arts Centre will form part of that.
“It will create a lovely piazza and cultural centre.”
Cllr Mark Lowry, the Cabinet member for finance, said visitors to the city would want to see a show at the Theatre Royal, eat in the restaurants, shop and stay in the new hotel.
“This will go some way towards our aspirations to grow the city as a conference centre.”
He said the development would play a part in getting rid of the city’s “crazy paving”.
The mix of concrete slabs along Royal Parade will be replaced with the same granite as is used in the Piazza and will be laid around the refurbished Theatre Royal and Derry’s Clock.