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Harrogate Theatre in bid to run Royal Hall

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Harrogate Theatre has applied to its local council to take over the running of the 1000-seat Royal Hall in the town.

The theatre’s chairman, Jim Clark, has estimated that the organisation could contribute £15 million to the local economy if it was to operate both venues.

His estimate, which he said was “conservative”, is based on Harrogate Theatre’s annual report which calculated that it brought £7 million into the wider local economy last year. The Royal Hall had a net operating loss of more than £350,000 last year.

Clark said: “I think we can make a success of the Royal Hall. It has always been an ambition of mine to run the two venues together and that’s been from the day that I took over as chairman, and that was five years ago.

“[The Royal Hall] has not been managed or marketed effectively and this is what we can bring to the venue – our skills [are] in programming and in running a theatre and we have shown we can do that over the last five years.

Clark said the theatre’s staff would programme both venues, and the Royal Hall would remain a receiving house. He added that the two programmes would be “complementary”. Harrogate Theatre is already running the Royal Hall’s box office.

The Royal Hall is owned by Harrogate Borough Council and is currently managed by the local authority’s autonomous conference and exhibition business.

Designed by Frank Matcham, the Royal Hall is England’s last surviving kursaal and recently underwent a £10 million renovation. However, in 2010/11 only 57 events took place in the hall and 49 of these were local community group occasions rather than commercial bookings. The lettings revenue for the year was £176,251 and the profit and loss account for 2010/11 shows a net operating loss of £364,561 for the hall.

Clark commented: “It is never going to be a venue that will make a surplus – you have got to be realistic. If it did make surpluses or profits, they would be able to get a commercial operator to run it.

“We would be expecting the council to give us sufficient grant to allow it to break even but we would not anticipate that being a particularly onerous task.”

A spokesman for Harrogate Borough Council said: “The time is right to consider whether a partnership arrangement should be entered into with those who have the resources and the experience to promote an Edwardian kursaal as an entertainment venue.

“The council will be considering a further report in September. In the meantime, the Harrogate Theatre board, which recently took on responsibility for the Royal Hall’s box office, will be speaking to the council as they work up their proposals.”

The theatre’s plans to manage the Royal Hall will be assessed by Harrogate Borough Council at the end of September.

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