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Major theatre operator looks ‘seriously’ at St David’s Hall opportunity

A MAJOR theatre operator other than Academy Music Group (AMG) engaged with consultants over the opportunity to operate St David’s Hall, a Cardiff Council official has said.

The council’s director of economic development, Neil Hanratty, was asked at a scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday, May 31, whether the local authority had received any expressions of interest in the running of the classical music venue which did not materialise into bids.

The six-week soft marketing process for St David’s Hall ended on Friday, May 19, without any formal expressions of interest to run the building having been made.

At the Cardiff Council economy and culture scrutiny committee meeting, Mr Hanratty confirmed that no bids were received during this period, adding that this was largely due to the scale of the building’s maintenance bill.

However, he later went on to say: “Organisations did engage with the consultants. I certainly know one big theatre operator that did engage and looked at it seriously, but they decided not to bid in the end.”

Mr Hanratty did not name the theatre operator and went on to say that it was something he would likely reveal in the confidential section of the meeting.

Scrutiny committee member, Cllr Rodney Berman, who initially asked whether there had been any expressions of interest which had not materialised into a bid, followed up by reiterating a question he had asked earlier in the meeting.

He said: “Could it have been that if we had given people longer we might have got bids that might have met the requirements. I just want to be satisfied that we have properly tested the market to check whether there were any feasible alternatives out there.”

Mr Hanratty said giving six weeks was “typical and normal” for a soft marketing process and that the council had been known to give even less time in the past.

He added: “It certainly wasn’t a short period. I’m not sure [if we had] given longer whether it would have resulted in any bids given that the issues are fairly fundamental.”

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With the soft marketing process concluded, the council will now look to publish a voluntary ex-ante (VEAT) notice of intent, which will allow competitors to come forward with a challenge to the bid.

A draft of the VEAT, which was published ahead of Wednesday’s council scrutiny committee meeting, states that the future operator of St David’s Hall would be expected to take on a repairs bill of about £38 million.

The operator would also be required to make the venue available to third parties to book for up to 90 days a year.

Mr Hanratty said another factor which put off potential bidders from making a formal expression of interest was the commitment that would need to be made towards the venue’s classical programme without any subsidy.

The council isn’t expected to consider a final lease agreement with AMG until July, provided that no challenges to AMG’s offer have been made on the conclusion of the VEAT process.