Design firm appointed for £47m redevelopment of Harrogate Convention Centre
A potential £47million redevelopment of Harrogate Convention Centre has moved a step closer after an international design and consultancy firm was appointed to draw up the proposals.
Harrogate Borough Council has appointed Arcadis to carry out the design work for the 40-year-old venue which officials have warned may not survive without investment once it is no longer needed as an NHS Nightingale Hospital.
The centre will remain on standby as the temporary hospital until the end of March before it is handed back over to business for events later this year.
And while there are warnings the venue is in "critical need" of an upgrade to keep its national appeal, there are also questions over the risks of making a major investment and how the conference sector can recover from Covid-19.
Councillor Graham Swift, deputy leader and cabinet member for economic growth at Harrogate Borough Council, said: “Harrogate Convention Centre makes such a significant contribution to the district's economy.
“Therefore it is crucial that we redevelop the ageing site as well as introduce much more flexible spaces that will allow us to attract a broader customer base and substantially strengthen this economic impact, which will be needed even more so in the future."
It was estimated before the pandemic that Harrogate Convention Centre attracted more than 150,000 visitors a year with an economic impact of £35million.
The centre itself has seen its finances dip in-and-out of profit and losses for several years but councillor Pat Marsh, leader of Harrogate's Liberal Democrats, said it was because of the wider economic benefits that she is supporting the redevelopment project.
She said: "Of course this is a risk but what are the other options; close the business and risk impacting the local economy, or continue on with a building not fit for purpose.
"There is still interest from exhibitors and conferences and there are still new bookings being made so we need to build on this as we come out of lockdown.
"Let's create an outstanding 21st century facility which not only benefits the local economy but local people by trying to achieve a facility that is fit for purpose for both."
Plans to rebuild the venue could involve three exhibition halls being demolished to make way for a new 5,000 sq m hall and a refurbished auditorium.
Around £20million would be needed to complete a first phase of redevelopment, with another phase later. If this is not done, a report estimates the centre's maintenance costs over 20 years could be £19million.
Harrogate Borough Council handed Amsterdam-headquartered Arcadis a £1million contract last week after a competitive tender process.
The firm has offices in Leeds and York, and will produce design proposals for phase one before a final decision on whether to progress with the redevelopment is made by councillors.
Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council and chair of the Harrogate Convention Centre board, said: “This is just the start of our exciting plans to reinvigorate and establish the convention centre as the number one choice for conference and exhibition centres in the UK.
“I’m looking forward to getting the ball rolling on this ambitious project and ultimately being able to show new clients what the Harrogate district has to offer.”
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter