Harrogate Convention Centre boss 'confident' venue will be ready for events in summer
The director of Harrogate Convention Centre says she is confident that the venue will be ready to host events this summer if lockdown restrictions are lifted on schedule.
It was announced on Monday that the council-owned venue will close as an NHS Nightingale hospital next month - a year on since it was transformed into the emergency unit built in case hospitals became overwhelmed.
The 500-bed facility has not treated a single Covid-19 patient during the pandemic and there are now questions over how quickly it can be dismantled and when the convention centre will be handed back over to business.
Under the government's roadmap out of lockdown, some events may be permitted to go ahead with restricted capacities - up to 1,000 people or 50% capacity - from 17 May.
But Harrogate Convention Centre director Paula Lorimer said staff are working towards events making a full return on 21 June when all restrictions on social distancing are due to be lifted.
She said: "Discussions with colleagues from the NHS about their plans for returning the Harrogate Convention Centre to us are on-going. However, we are confident that the venue will reopen from 21 June in line with government restrictions ending.
“All the team at the convention centre are proud of the contribution the venue has made to support the NHS in its fight against Covid-19 over the last 12 months."
Ms Lorimer said more than 30 events have been confirmed for the venue between June and next March, with a further 56 provisionally booked. She said this demonstrates "loud and clear" that the hard-hit events sector and businesses can make a quick recovery from Covid-19.
She added: “I am delighted that we will be driving business to them once again in the summer and play our part in the Covid recovery plan for the district.”
It comes as Harrogate Borough Council has appointed a design firm to draw up proposals for a potential £47million redevelopment of the 40-year-old convention centre which officials have warned may not survive without investment.
The centre estimates the venue attracts about 157,000 visitors each year and considers it essential to the district's economy.
Plans to rebuild it could involve three exhibition halls being demolished to make way for a new 5,000 sq m hall and a refurbished auditorium.
The designs from Amsterdam-headquartered firm Arcadis are costing around £1million and a final decision on whether to go-ahead with the redevelopment will be made by councillors later this year.
Harrogate Borough Council has allowed the NHS to use the convention centre rent free since April and the authority's leader, councillor Richard Cooper, previously said he hopes the government will repay its "goodwill" with cash towards the redevelopment.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter