Dudley Hippodrome to be demolished

Dudley Hippodrome, which once hosted famous acts including comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, will be demolished.

Dudley Council's cabinet has backed plans to knock down the venue with bulldozers expected move in despite a 35,000-strong petition to save the theatre. Council chiefs say the land will be redeveloped as an open space used for outdoor events and exhibitions "or viable alternatives". The decision follows the failure of suggested alternatives for reuse of the building.

Dudley Council, which owns the site, planned to demolish the building in 2013 but put plans on hold following the petition to save it, organised by The Friends of Dudley Hippodrome.

The theatre, which once hosted famous acts including comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, was originally built in 1938 and remained in use as a variety theatre until the mid-60s. In its time, the venue was the largest in the region outside of Birmingham and one of the biggest in the UK. Had plans to re-open it been successful, a return to its original layout would have seen it eclipsed only by Birmingham Hippodrome, with 1,750 seats and 1,850 respectively. 

Dudley Hippodrome has been empty since 2009 and, following invitations from the council for proposals to reuse the building, 'The Friends' proposed creating a theatre training centre and performance venue. However independent scrutiny deemed their business plan unworkable with bosses saying they would need to sell at least 800 tickets at a face value of £20, five days a week, just to break even.Further plans, including those by the ROK entertainment group have also fallen through. 

One person we spoke to said they had mixed feelings about the news, stating that any attempt to renovate the theatre would need to be sympathetic. They said: "Whilst I'd love to see Dudley Hippodrome brought back as the jewel in the areas crown, staging touring productions and one night shows, we need to be realistic.

"It'll cost millions to put the theatre back to use and there's no guarantee that producers would want to bring their shows to Dudley. Even if they did, who\s to say people would deviate from Dudley and Wolves to see them? If The Hippodrome can't be brought back to life as a theatre then it shouldn't be brought back at all."

Speaking of the decision to demolish the building, Councillor Khurshid Ahmed said: "We have fully explored every suggested alternative use submitted so far, but after giving people every opportunity we need to draw a line under this."

He said the cost of securing the building was "hitting tax-payers in the pocket" and even access was difficult due to "serious asbestos issues".


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