Town Centre Opera House Offices Plan Gets Go-Ahead

Sep 3 2010 by Alan Woodison, Kilmarnock Standard

KILMARNOCK’s biggest eyesore is about to be sorted – at long, long last.

The shored-up Opera House building in John Finnie Street, which has been a town centre embarrassment for 20 years, is to become an office block.

People will know the iconic property more for its crumbling appearance and rusted scaffolding than its colourful history.

But all that will change over the next 18 months.

Plans were approved on Wednesday by East Ayrshire Council for the retention of the facade and erection of council offices on the site down from the train station.

The former Opera House and a section at the back in Strand Street were destroyed by fire in 1989 and since then only the listed sandstone facade has remained.

East Ayrshire Council had originally favoured a retailing mix in John Finnie Street but such an outcome in the present economic climate is unlikely for now.

The council’s next move was to enter into a develop and purchase agreement with Klin Developments of Kilmarnock.

The objective was to retain the existing facade and provide approximately 25,240 sq ft of office space for 220 council employees. Council leader Douglas Reid said: “We are acutely aware of the need to be pragmatic as we adjust to new economic circumstances.

“The Opera House has remained vacant for over 20 years and it has become an eyesore, due to its highly visible location. Over this period there has been very little market interest in the site, and given the current economic climate, this is unlikely to change in the coming years.

“Without public sector involvement, I’m convinced that this site will remain undeveloped and will continue to blight our town. Its removal will act as a catalyst to encourage future investment within Kilmarnock.”

Overall 400 employees are being relocated to town centre offices, 130 of whom will be accommodated in this new development.

Councillor Jim Buchanan, Spokesperson for Economic Regeneration said: “The public sector has a key role to play in town centre regeneration. It has been widely recognised across Scotland that local authorities need to lead by example by consolidating and increasing their own presence in town centres; we’ve seen recent evidence of this in East Renfrewshire and Edinburgh. The town is facing a number of challenges, both in economic and regeneration terms, and we cannot fail to act on this opportunity.

“There are no other sites of similar size and with such prominence which have the same potential for growth, development, regeneration and appeal.

“It is hoped that the redevelopment of the Opera House site will attract funding from the CARS and THI projects which are enabling the council to take a comprehensive approach to the regeneration of the Conservation Area.”

A spokesman for Klin added: “We are delighted to be working jointly with East Ayrshire Council on this historic site which has lain derelict for too long.

“The company has now spent eight years in resolving the various ownership issues of the site in addition to considering the most appropriate uses.

“We shall continue to work tirelessly in ensuring the redevelopment of Kilmarnock for the benefit of future generations.”