Chester Race Company hopes its planned 1,000 seater conference centre will be a game-changer for the city on the same level as Storyhouse cultural centre.
The racecourse has just unveiled its £100m masterplan which includes a conference centre – or ‘events building’ – plus a new grandstand, hotel extension and multi-storey car park.
Exhibition boards are on public display between 12pm and 8pm, today (February 27), within the race company’s 500-capacity Pavilion Suite – the largest conference facility currently available in the city.
Race Company project manager Chris Clayton said the events building would be able to host conferences, banquets, weddings, trade fairs and even concerts as well as functioning as a ‘high quality’ hospitality facility on race days.
Speaking in the Pavilion Suite, Mr Clayton said there was pent up demand for a large conference venue: “We know because we get enquiries for conferences; people looking at the North West. They will say ‘At the moment we‘ve got Liverpool, Manchester and Chester and we quite like Chester because it’s historic and it’s not Liverpool or Manchester’, and can we accommodate 1,000?
" ‘Oh no, sorry, we can’t’, so they go to Liverpool or Manchester and Chester loses out by not having a big enough venue.”
He added: “Chester will hopefully in a few years time have this events building and Storyhouse and suddenly people come to Chester and think ‘Ooh, they’ve actually got a really nice theatre and cinema with it and library and a lovely square (in future) and there’s a conference centre’. They’re big pull factors.
“You get a conference for 1,000 people and they will all stay in Chester in the hotels and they will eat here and they will probably come for a weekend or they will come back because they will think ‘We had a conference in Chester and it’s lovely’.”
London-based architects Tony McGuirk and Keith Watson are behind the masterplan with experience designing schemes at Wimbledon, Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Aintree and Ascot.
Other key features of the vision include The Pavilion Grandstand, a replacement for the Leverhulme stand, with the most modern hospitality facilities in racing, including boxes and restaurants overlooking the course.
Most car parking linked to Holiday Inn Express would be relocated to a three-level multi-storey on the other side of the railway line but accessible through the arches.
Freeing up the hotel car park plot would create room for the events building and a 30-40-bed extension at the Holiday Inn.
But there would also be two new pedestrianised squares – Watergate Square and Paradise Square in front of the hotel – linked by a new lane on the line of the old Paradise Row, which leads down to a series of new course side lawns for people to enjoy.
Alongside this new route would be the Lane Building, open all year round, with active street frontages both in the lane and on New Crane Street with possible uses including a cafe, restaurant and shop at lower levels and either offices or a boutique hotel above.
Mr Clayton said responses to the exhibition had been ‘positive so far’. A planning application is expected to be lodged at the end of April or beginning of May and the first building could be ready in about two years if all goes smoothly.
■ A planning application for the demolition of the Watergate Inn has now been approved and work has begun.
The pub will be replaced with a new public entrance to the County enclosure through a canopied entrance within a pedestrianised Watergate Square. Empty offices created by the race company’s relocation to the nearby HQ building will be transformed into new customer amenities including a bar open all year round.
These improvements will be completed in advance of the first meeting of Chester’s 2018 season on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.