Agenda item

Questions and answer session with Mr Don Robinson

Minutes:

Q1     Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your business experience, particularly in Scarborough?

 

DR    I ran the London Dungeon and made good profit from it.  It's now owned by the Merlin Group.  I set up Churchill's War exhibition in London.  I've owned Flamingo Land, Dudley Zoo, Whipsnade Zoo, Scarborough's Zoo and Marine land.  I have businesses in Bulgaria and although I'm 75 I still enjoy work.  I've been in the leisure industry – played professional sport and owned Hull City football club.  I've run successful businesses and never lost any money.  I've not run anything unless it will at least break even but mostly to make a profit.  However, this is a modern era, bringing difficult times especially for the Council.  We now have the best management in the Town Hall that I can remember ever since I was a child.  But we are coming into a new era.  Looking at the Open Air Theatre – how are you going to make it pay?  This has got to be looked at a little differently; this will bring revenue into all the traders in the town, bars, restaurants, shops etc who will be attracted to the shows that are presented at the Open Air Theatre. The income is spread over the rest of the town and will help them to make a profit. But it will be working for the town over all – getting income for the town.  We can now build on this and make it a tourist attraction – display the history of Scarborough.  People all over have heard of it and are taking note especially with the Queen coming to open the theatre.  At the football event I was staggered to see families all in England colours.  It was like a big family party.  Scarborough is progressing.

Regarding the Futurist’s programme, I don’t believe that the town can afford to be “doing up” the Futurist site.

Q2     Have you any experience in the entertainments business, particularly in Scarborough?

DR    I operated the Royal Opera House which we bought from the York Rep Company on behalf of a trust that had previously been formed by the Scarborough people to prevent its closure. It was owned unsuccessfully by the trust for approximately 2 years, no rent was paid to us and the theatre was left empty. 

          We had to take it back and modernised it (with a new roof, chandeliers, new stage lighting and new bars) and reopened it, and for 12-15 years it did very well. For example, Ken Dodd did two shows nightly for a 2/3 year period and other top artists topped the bill through other years, we had junior showtime in the morning, cinema in the afternoon and midnight hypnotist shows together with two bars – so we were open morning noon and night, seven days a week.

          Then it was bought from my Company by the Jay family from Great Yarmouth who operated summer theatres, their main interest at Great Yarmouth and also in other resorts.

          You need to understand the business.  Barry Stead has done a good job at the Futurist but its way past its day.  How can it continue?  It can't compete with the newly refurbished Spa.  The town can't do with two theatres of this size as there are not the artists available.  The artists these days are not willing to do long summer seasons, only one night stands.

PM    Did the audience move over from the Opera House to the Futurist?

          (DR combined this with the answer to the next question)

Q3     As a local and very successful businessman, what is your view on the Futurist?

DR    In those days there were long summer seasons.  Big theatres now aren't doing this – one night stands are the norm.  We are not getting long summer shows.  Scarborough used to have 15-16 week summer shows for the season.  Now there is only 4-5 weeks when you can make money.  The Futurist is a big risk.  I feel sorry for Barry Stead – he has done a good job and the Council must look after him.  I'm 75 now and still enjoy working, I run the Britain at war experience in London and have interests abroad – I do think a lot about Scarborough.  Could we give our children free tickets and get them to help with clearing up at the OAT? (Note: The OAT is not being run by the Council.)

Q4     You will have seen the newspaper and media headlines following Mark Rothery, property consultant's presentation to the Task Group last week.  What are your views on redevelopment of the site including a new or refurbished theatre?

DR    It will be a waste of ratepayers' money to build a theatre there.  The site needs to go out to the developers for ideas.  The Spa is one of the best things that has happened in my lifetime.  Some of the decisions made by this Council are the best known.  Tom Fox doesn’t come from a business background and has done a good job.  Scarborough has got all the awards – so many people laugh – but its nice to hear about these awards.  Scarborough is progressing and doing very well.

 

Q5     Have you any experience of property development and do you have any thoughts on how the Futurist site could be best developed for the benefit of the town?

 

DR    It needs a lot of thought over the next year to 18 months to come up with the right formula.  It doesn’t want anything like the London Dungeon in my opinion (which I previously ran). I have run trips to Las Vegas.  Scarborough has got the best mini-Vegas on the seafront with the amusement arcade lights – other resorts have amusement arcades spread out but ours are all contained in one area, with all the lights.  It’s a great credit to those people that operate the amusements, who have kept up the standards.  It has kept us in the competition and now outstrips Blackpool. Years ago I used to be the chair of the Harbour Committee with Peter Popple – there was great opposition to dredging the harbour.  But look at it now with all the yachts in the marina.  We have to move with the times – the fishing industry was in decline.  We are the best resort.  Look at the sea wall – lessons were learned on the overspend – but the skate park is another good feature.  The North side was crumbling but is now up-market with the new development there. 

 

          The Spa concert hall can cater for the conferences and one night stands from top stars and the theatre seating 600 can cater quite adequately for any modern day smaller summer shows.  Touring companies only come for 1-2 nights.

Q6     What is your view of the property market at present and how it could affect the redevelopment of the Futurist site?

 

DR    It will probably be another 3-4 years before it gets going in Scarborough.  Although I have property in London near Tower Bridge and the price has rocketed – I could sell it overnight.  With the 2012 Olympics will come a boom time for Britain.  We are seeing it in South Africa now with the World Cup.  There will be some harsh rational decisions to be made by the Government with regard to tax – but the more you earn the more tax you will pay and the more successful you will be.

          With regard to the trust – I don't see how it is going to work.  With the Winston Churchill and Britain at War Museum – run by a charitable trust and the money earned goes to charity.  (Today's Daily Mail has an article on it).  Who will operate it?  It will need a workforce team. I have a team of approximately 20 people in London.  I can't see how you can run the Futurist Theatre on a charitable trust basis.  Everyone means well but it needs clearer thought and I would be willing speak to Council Officials and Patricia David on this if needed as I do feel strongly that this is not in the interests of the town’s future.

DJ thanked Don Robinson for the benefit of his experience and thoughts.

 

 

 

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