Harrogate Convention Center faces competition from Leeds event venue ready for approval

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How the new Leeds events venue and student accommodation is envisioned.

Plans for the former Yorkshire Bank headquarters have been recommended for approval by Leeds City Council, which said it had a “long-term aspiration” to bring a conference center to the city.

A report said the venue would be a quarter the size of the Harrogate Convention Center and “focus on much smaller events”.

Yet he also said the venue could divert up to 6% of trade from the convention centre, with further impacts on businesses in Harrogate town center that depend on the events.

The proposals come at a crucial time for the 40-year-old Harrogate Convention Centre, which has planned a £47million redevelopment after warning it was in ‘critical need’ of an upgrade in order to retain its national appeal.

The venue would not say whether it supports or opposes Leeds’ plans.

But center manager Paula Lorimer said: “We would need to look carefully at any development in the area to understand its likely impact on the Harrogate Convention Center and ultimately the city.

“Our convention center attracts over 150,000 visitors a year, has an economic impact of over £35 million and supports thousands of local jobs and businesses.

“In the meantime, we will continue to push forward our own exciting redevelopment proposals and an update report will be presented to cabinet on August 17 for consideration.”

Questions over how the £47million redevelopment might be funded persist after money for the convention center was not included in a devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire.

The landmark deal was struck last week but Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper refused to sign a letter of support as he said he ‘doesn’t live up to this which many of us have been expecting in the sense that it does not provide guaranteed funding for the convention center“.

Separately, the borough council also bid for the convention center money from the government’s leveling fund.

But the maximum amount available per project is £20million and Harrogate is classed as a low priority area.

A decision on the offer is expected in the fall.

Meanwhile, plans for Leeds would see the former Yorkshire Bank headquarters demolished and the conference venue, along with two blocks of student accommodation, built in its place if the proposals are approved at a meeting next Thursday.

A report says the performance of the Harrogate Convention Center has been “poor” in recent years and that the proposed venue would “seek to capitalize on Leeds’ high-demand events market” rather than divert trade away from Harrogate.

He also said the proposed venue would complement the First Direct Arena which sits next to the Leeds venue on Clay Pit Lane.

The report states: “Leeds currently has no exhibition space dedicated to both business-to-business and business-to-customer conferences and exhibitions.

“Providing a multipurpose event building capable of hosting conference facilities is a long-term aspiration of the council.”

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Journalist

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