Preston Guild Hall is set to be taken over by a new company this month, amid speculation about the venue’s future, managers have revealed.
The news comes after a series of debt claims were made against the firm that currently operates it, Preston Guild Hall Ltd (PGH).
Current owner Simon Rigby said the venue was in “final stage discussions” with VMS Live to take over the operating of the city venue.
Today Mr Rigby told the Post: “We have self-operated the Guild Hall to get it to a level where a serious operator would be interested in it.
“Operating venues is not our strength as we have previously discussed.
“VMS are a well-established industry operator and promoter and will take Preston Guild Hall on to a new level of acts and attractions.”
He said the Guild Hall had “lifted” during his company’s stewardship but that the “time is right” to hand on its development to VMS, whom he described as “industry experts with a wealth of experience”.
He added: “We were impressed with VMS’s in depth knowledge and experience in the operation of major regional venues.
“After all the speculation surrounding the Guild Hall’s future VMS and PGH felt it was best to confirm our joint intentions.”
It is understood central to the negotiations is a financial package that will enable the liabilities of the venues to be serviced.
Both parties expect completion this month.
The Guild Hall was built to replace the town’s Public Hall, intended to be ready for the Preston Guild of 1972, but construction was delayed and it officially opened in 1973.
Prominent artists such as Morrissey, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Jackson 5, Thin Lizzy, and Busted have performed there.
Until July 2014, it was owned by Preston City Council, who were considering its demolition due to high running costs, but it was then sold to Mr Rigby, with a view to renovating and improving the venue.
In 2016 it was taken over by Mr Rigby’s firm Preston Guild Hall Ltd.
In February this year, a show promoter came forward making allegations concerning a £70,000 debt for a tour by celebrity chef James Martin.
In the last week two more promoters also alleged debts relating to ticket sales.
The first, Graham Pullen, of Special Projects Live, has since been paid after serving a statutory demand to the company.
The other, David Richards, creator and manager of male stripper show Dreamboys, alleges a £10,000 debt is still outstanding and that a statutory demand had not been paid.
In relation to this, Mr Rigby said: “Special Projects is now paid.
“We remain in discussion with BKL.
“We are aware of Dreamboys and I have asked finance to make contact with them as if there is an outstanding balance this is an oversight on our part, I assume.”
Who is Simon Rigby?
Entrepreneur Simon Rigby bought the Guild Hall for just £1 back in 2014.
Owners Preston Council were keen to offload the ageing venue, built in 1972 and said to be costing the authority £1m a year.
In 2013 the council carried out a “soft market” test on the possible disposal of the Guild Hall.
There were several bidders, and Mr Rigby emerged as the favourite, with plans to make the Guild Hall “the beating heart of Preston” once again.
Blackpool-based Mr Rigby, who has a portfolio of companies, said at the time: “What we all want to see is Preston city centre thriving.
“Look at the location and the potential of the place.”
His ambition was to create a world-class venue for Preston and the North West.
But after investing huge sums of money in the venue, he has now decided that the Guild Hall would probably be better run and operated by another company.
The Guild hall has undergone a major transformation, with bars, cafes, restaurants and Level bringing in new visitors to the building.
Mr Rigby has recently sold off his BetSid betting shops, closed his Safehands Nursery in Ribbleton, passed on the lease of ice cream parlour Bonds of Elswick, made changes to re-let Fives cocktail bar and grill and closed Vittorias at Preston Guild Hall.
Now there are claims from some promoters that they are owed money by Mr Rigby’s company Preston Guild Hall Ltd.
Who is VMS?
Manchester-based VMS is a specialist live music and venues company.
It offer bespoke venue development, management, promotional and operational solutions for partner venues.
In addition it promotes and stages event brands including, Inner City Live, Sounds of Summer and over 500 promoted shows annually as VMS Live presents.
Current and recent clients include ARC (Arena Racing Company), Manchester Academy, Student Central (ULU), Union of UEA Students Union (The Nick Rayns LCR, Waterfront & Studio), Glyndwr University Wrexham (William Aston Hall & Catrin Finch Centre), Warwick University Students Union (Copper Rooms), Hull (Welly, Polar Bear & Fruit), Liverpool Olympia, Preston Guildhall, Portsmouth Pyramids, Brixton Electric, Telford Town Council and several Local Authorities and event organisers.