Fylde Coast entrepreneur Simon Rigby has outlined his vision for his latest acquisition – Preston Guild Hall.
The Wrea Green tycoon, who runs the Villa stable of restaurants, has taken over the huge venue on a 999-year lease for an undisclosed sum.
He plans to transform the ageing 1970s building, putting in five restaurants, revitalising the 28-shop space, introducing a comedy club, attracting bands for younger people and giving a huge injection for the local arts scene with a £250,000 endowment.
And he revealed that he had been inundated with requests to buy Blackpool Airport which closed down last week with £21m in debts.
He said: “I must have had 100 people asking me about the Airport. It’s very sad and a big local issue. But the reason I wanted to invest in the Guild Hall is because part of our core business is running venues and this one was a huge opportunity, a venue crying out for investment and one where we can make a difference.
“Being born and brought up in Warton, I have some very happy memories of the Guild Hall from years back.
“When it was built it was the biggest arena in the UK, It has been overtaken since then, of course, and it has been a bit stuck in the 70s.
“We have committed to spend £1m on the outside but will be spending much more than that inside.
“I am looking forward to stopping the decline of the Guild Hall. We are opening the first of five eateries on the site this week and will be opening a tapas bar there next month.
“They will be a good support for the theatre and the Grand Hall. People can eat there before or after a show. It’s a 1,200 capacity venue, which perhaps has not been made the most of with the shows and acts it has put on.
“With it being run by the council they had to play safe with bookings because it was tax payers’ money, of course.
“We as a private business can take more chances. For example we are booking the musical Avenue Q, which is not my kind of thing but has been very popular. It ran for 2,500 shows on Broadway and has been in the West End.
“Now that the 53 Degrees venue is closing we hope to be able to put on those bands who attract a younger audience to keep Preston vibrant.
“Blackpool is booming at the moment but the arts scene in Preston needs the Guild Hall to be the beating the heart of the town.”