Town Toolkit | Private sector led: Kilmarnock Opera House
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Private sector led: Kilmarnock Opera House

Kilmarnock Opera House (image courtesy of Nick Wright)
Kilmarnock Opera House (image courtesy of Nick Wright)

Kilmarnock’s historic Opera House was a sorry sight: gutted by fire in 1989 leaving just a burnt-out facade, the once magnificent building sat derelict for over 20 years, just yards from the station on the town’s busy John Finnie Street. Multiple ownership of the property and financial constraints meant that various development proposals came to nothing.

But now the B-listed façade has been restored, and the building is home to modern offices providing accommodation for 250 council employees in the heart of the town centre.

What happened? Kilmarnock Townscape Heritage Initiative was developed by East Ayrshire Council and Historic Scotland with a budget of almost £5 million to be spent on conservation and re-use of buildings in the town centre over a 5 year period. The project evolved from an existing Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme already successfully under way in the town centre. Together, Townscape Heritage Initiatives and Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes have successfully invested millions of pounds in historic buildings in town centres throughout Scotland over the last decade and more.

The Opera House was one of the new Townscape Heritage Initiatives' priority projects. To make the £7.5m project happen, the council took a lead role, entering into a develop-and-purchase agreement with local firm Klin Developments to give them the certainty of a guaranteed occupier for the building upon completion. This enabled full restoration of the façade with extensive stabilising works, structural repairs, repointing and indenting carried out to conserve its former glory. A new 5-storey office building was built behind the façade, occupied by the Council as part of its Town Centre First strategy of relocating staff into the town centre. The project has helped to revitalise this part of the town centre, with other subsequent projects building on its success, such as the Ingram Enterprise Centre which has conserved another splendid Victorian building on John Finnie Street.

For more information on the project, see the case study in this report (page 59) about vacant and derelict land produced for the Scottish Land Commission.

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