Historic York theatre set for sale as repair bill mounts

York Theatre Royal
York Theatre Royal
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YORK’S Theatre Royal looks set to be sold by York Council as part of a plan to unlock thousands of pounds to help renovate the historic building.

City councillors will next week consider selling the theatre for a “nominal sum” to the York Conservation Trust which has promised to spend £450,000 on the building.

A backlog of “immediate repairs” costing more than £320,000 has already built up at a time when the council is facing huge financial pressures.

Millions of pounds have been raised for a major renovation of the theatre, including a £2.8 million grant from Arts Council England (ACE), which will see alterations to the auditorium and the addition of a new glazed entrance foyer.

But a report to be considered by York Council’s cabinet next week warns that ACE is unwilling to spend the money on refurbishments which could be damaged by water getting into the building because of its poor state of repair.

It says that in addition to the immediate repairs “significant further works [will be] needed in coming years to ensure the ongoing safety and condition of this important historic building and to make it fit for purpose as an important part of the city’s cultural activity.”

Talks between the council and York Conservation Trust have produced an agreement which would see the Trust take ownership of the theatre and responsibility for the repairs.

The Trust has also promised to invest further over the next 10 years including the refurbishment of a Georgian property on Duncombe Place which was the home of actor and manager Tate Wilkinson who was responsible for securing the theatre’s royal patent in 1769.

An independent assessment has put the value of the theatre building in its current state at between £240,000 and £280,000.

Even if the council paid for the repairs the value of the building would only increase to around £340,000.

The report says: “On this basis the Theatre effectively has a nil value and the proposal would be to dispose of the Theatre for a nominal sum of £1 with a restricted covenant for use as a theatre.”

Councillors could alternatively choose to try and find the money to carry out the repairs or sell the theatre on the open market, although the report warns it is unlikely another bidder would make the same investment promises as York Conservation Trust “as there is no profit margin to be made and significant investment required.”

By selling the theatre, York Council will miss out on the £27,250-a-year rent it earns from its lease to York Citizens Theatre Trust but will no longer be liable for future repair bills.

York Theatre Royal was built in 1744 and the building incorporates features of the St Leonard’s Hospital which previously occupied the site.

It has undergone a series of renovations through its history including a new Victorian Gothic frontage in 1880 and a new modernist foyer in 1967.

It is estimated theatre customers contribute around £3.4 million a year to the city’s economy.

York Council and its predecessors have owned the freehold on the land since the 17th Century.

The pressure on the council means it has not spent money in recent years on preventative maintenance with £60,000 going on emergency repairs.