Theatre Plans Takes A Step Nearer To Completion After Campaigners Get Keys

If the building is returned to its original glory, it will become one of the largest theatres in the West Midlands, capable of staging large scale touring shows.

Campaigners hoping to refurbish and reopen the former Dudley Hippodrome theatre have been handed the keys by council bosses.

Black Country Hippodrome Limited has signed a five-year lease with Dudley Council, and has pledged to set in motion plans to get the former theatre back up and running. A series of milestones have been agreed between the group and the council to ensure progress continues on finding a suitable funding package for the intensive work needed for the building, which has stood empty since 2009.

Plans to demolish the building as part of a huge tourism masterplan, linking the zoo with the town centre, were considered but halted to listen to the campaigners who have now signed the lease.

Having run, in latter years, as a bingo hall, tenants completely removed the stage area to accommodate more seating and allowed some parts of the building which they didn't use to fall into disrepair. Coupled with a large amount of cosmetic damage internally, the group aim to gut any modern day additions and clear the debris to ascertain the state of the theatre. Councillor Khurshid Ahmed, cabinet member for planning and economic development, said:

“Black Country Hippodrome Ltd has been working behind the scenes to attract new funding to help reopen the building on Castle Hill. We are delighted to be supporting them with their bid to do this, and that will continue as long as they are making progress and meeting the agreed series of milestones set out in the lease.

“As a community council we have remained open to alternative suggestions for the building, as long as they are viable, and we will submit a planning application for demolition of the building as a fall-back position if it is needed.”

Local opinion on the venture has been divided since the Friends of Dudley Hippodrome - the original community group set up to fight demolition plans - outlined their proposals. Some local residents felt the building had served its purpose and attracting funds to refurbish it was a thankless task. However one local resident was more positive, saying:

"I'm so pleased the council and residents are working together to bring live theatre back to the Black Country.

"I just hope this doesn't start out with good intentions and end up, through a series of compromises, becoming less than what it should be. To be viable, this theatre needs to compete with the players in the cities around the region to host touring productions and not become a home for the tribute bands of the future."

Steve Daniels, Black Country Hippodrome Ltd board member, said: “We are delighted to have signed the lease and it’s the first big step in our plans to restore this local landmark back to its former glory.

“There are big challenges ahead and we are confident that we will meet them. We have worked well in partnership with Khurshid and his team and hope that this continues until we achieve our goal.”


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