In July, we began work to create a new look and feel Assembly Rooms; not knocking down and rebuilding, but instead building on and celebrating our city’s heritage.

Derby has been without a performance venue in the city centre since a fire in 2014, and earlier this year, the administration pledged to reopen the Assembly Rooms as quickly as possible.

That could now be as soon as 2020, as next week, Cabinet will be asked to approve £24m capital cost, in order to begin work on revitalising Derby’s Assembly Rooms.

If approved, the project will deliver essential repairs required to restore the venue, as well as a number of enhancements to the building and car park, to upgrade and modernise the look and feel of the Assembly Rooms.

Ground Floor entrance area
Ground Floor entrance area

The new look Assembly Rooms will serve as an entertainment hub for the city centre, providing a multi-functional space for concerts, pantomime, corporate events, conferences, exhibitions, comedy, family / theatre shows, weddings and more. Once opened, it’s anticipated to deliver over 280 events each year.

The enhanced venue will boast new commercial units fronting the Market Place, a remodelled entrance and lobby, multi-functional rooms, new glazing, refurbished bar areas, toilets and upgraded seating. The hope is to have a fully functioning venue by Autumn 2020.

The car park will also undergo a facelift, with accessibility improvements, including a new lift, as well as timber cladding to rejuvenate the exterior. Concepts are also being explored to improve the vehicle entrance from Full Street, and improve the arrival experience for visitors.

Since July, a feasibility study has taken place to determine costs for creating a new look and feel Assembly Rooms. These options included basic repairs and refurbishing plus enhancing.

Refurbishing and enhancing the Assembly Rooms is the preferred option, and is what Cabinet is being asked to approve. The cost for this is £23m, with provision for a further £1m reserve. This will be funded without any borrowing, through various pots of money, including the Council’s capital funding, Council tax and a D2N2 grant.

Darwin Suite banquette option
Darwin Suite banquette option

The original estimate to refurbish the Assembly Rooms back in May was £15m – this would see minimal work to the building, only essential work would be undertaken to repair damage caused by the fire. The feasibility study has scoped the essential work in more detail and the costs for these  are thought to be in the region of £18m.

Councillor Chris Poulter, Leader of Derby City Council said:

“In order to remain competitive, it’s important that we make our Assembly Rooms a go-to hub that attracts a broad range of acts, and offers something for everyone in the city. To do that, we cannot simply repair and reopen; we must enhance the building, and bring it into the 21st century.

“A refurbished venue will act as a catalyst for regeneration in the area, and give the city something to be proud of. We are not Nottingham or Leicester, we are Derby, and it’s important that we have a venue befitting our city.”

Discussing the possibility of demolishing and rebuilding a new venue, Cllr Poulter commented:

“Of course we have seriously considered this, but on reflection it doesn’t make sense for the city. We have waited long enough for this to happen, we need the Assembly Rooms now – not in the four or five years it would take to rebuild. We’ve listened to residents, and we know this is what they want.

“The cost of knocking down the current venue to rebuild is too high; demolishing the current Assembly Rooms and rebuilding would cost an estimated £50m.

“By refurbishing with enhancements, we will be offering a long-term solution in a short period of time, and importantly, we will not be borrowing any money, which means that going forward we can plan for an even brighter future for Derby.”

Once reopened, it’s anticipated that the venue will drive over 160,000 additional visitors to the city centre.

The decision on who will operate the Assembly Rooms has not yet been made, however we will be exploring a number of options, including Derby LIVE, and external operators.

Car Park Facade Evening View
Car Park Facade Evening View

The move to refurbish has been commended by the Royal Institute of British Architects, as well as local architects, who welcome the preservation and restoration of a building with significant architectural value, locally, regionally and nationally.

If approved at Cabinet next week, work will then begin to progress the designs for the new Assembly Rooms and secure planning permission to deliver the project.

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The Council has been allocated local growth funding – subject to the submission of a detailed business plan – by D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership – the private sector-led partnership that promotes economic growth across Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.