Wiltshire Council has approved a plan to seek an outside organisation to run the hall as an ‘entertainment, community and cultural’ hub, after it closed at the start of Covid-19 pandemic.
The hall has since been used as a vaccination site, but councillors now hope to see it return as a venue for concerts, conferences and more.
A report was presented to the council’s Cabinet on October 11 outlining options to operate the 61-year-old venue in the future, and it agreed to the recommendation that an external organisation should be sought to run the building on the council’s behalf.
This option is the most likely one to provide long-term financial sustainability to enable the venue to thrive and to safeguard its future, they decided. The hall will continue to be used as a vaccination centre until the end of March 2023.
Cllr Richard Clewer, leader of Wiltshire Council, said: “While the building has been occupied by the NHS we have been working hard behind the scenes to plan for City Hall’s future as an entertainment, community, and cultural venue, subject to it being economically viable.
“We firmly believe that working with another organisation will provide long-term financial sustainability to this much-loved venue, enabling it to thrive and safeguarding its future.
He added: “With the investment in Salisbury through the Future High Streets Fund and the River Park project, it is clear that the city’s appeal and popularity will only be enhanced in the years to come.”
The council also confirmed that it has applied for funding under the government’s Levelling Up Fund and is seeking a substantial capital grant to deliver essential work and strategic improvements to Salisbury’s cultural offer, including City Hall and Salisbury Playhouse.
However, the outcome of the bid will not determine whether City Hall reopens as an entertainment, community, and cultural venue or not, they added. Should the bid prove to be successful, works would likely be scheduled to commence in October of 2023 and complete in January 2025.
However, the exact timescales of this potential work, and its impact on when the venue would reopen as a result, would be confirmed in due course.
The outcome of the Levelling Up Bid should be known later this year. If the Levelling Up Bid is not successful, then the council will do an assessment and likely carry out any essential work to ensure the venue is safe and ready for reopening – work that would likely take place next year and could last around nine months.
However, this work would need to be agreed as part of the council’s capital programme.
“Of course, we would be delighted if we were successful with the Levelling Up bid, but we have been diligent and planned for either eventuality,” Cllr Lewer added.
“We await with interest the outcome of the bid because that will inform the timescales of our plans.
“We will still need people to be patient though because it will be some time before the venue is reopened, and nothing is confirmed yet, but should this process and option prove to be successful we’ll confirm exact timescales as soon as we are able to.
“We are feeling positive about City Hall’s future, and we will keep everyone updated as the project develops.”
During April and May, the council carried out an informal soft market test exercise to understand the level of interest among third-party organisations in potentially managing City Hall on its behalf.
With the decision made that working with a third-party organisation is the best way forward for the venue, a formal procurement process will begin in due course, and any interested parties will be invited to participate.
If the council is unable to secure a suitable third-party to work with them it will consider all other options available.