In the early 1960s the Council entered into an agreement with the Taylor Woodrow Group for the comprehensive redevelopment of the large area bounded by the major shopping street – Western Road – and the seafront.
Within this area a vast shopping precinct, offices and flats were to be built and the SS Brighton was to be superseded by an entertainment centre, including an ice rink in a prime seafront position.
This new ice rink became the venue for the major party political conferences but was not a commercial success and in 1971 its owners, Top Rank, announced it would not be available in future years.
Council members and officers were forced to give serious thought to the town’s future.
If the major political party conferences could no longer be housed in Brighton the town’s whole role in the conference market would be questioned.
Not only were the two main political conferences too big for the Dome but so were other international ones, which could be attracted to Brighton’s sophisticated seaside resort if only there was a large, attractive and modern venue.
In 1972 the council endorsed proposals for a purpose-built hall to serve both the conference and entertainment markets.
With a proposed opening date of 1976, costs were estimated at around £3,700,000, subject to inflation.
In February 1973 the Special Centre Committee, Chaired by Councillor Stanley Theobald was set up to control the project. A year later the committee reported in detail upon the proposed Centre and it’s financing at a capital cost which had then reached nearly £5.5 million.
Tne of the last acts of the County Borough Council prior to a local government re-organisation was to approve the scheme, almost without dissent, and the building contract was signed on 29th March, 1974.
The contract to build was won by a long established Sussex firm, James Longley & Co. Ltd. Architects were Russell Diplock Associates.
It took three years to build and during this time national and international bookings began to flood in proving that with the right kind of facilities there was plenty of business for Brighton for many years to come.
On the 19th September 1977 Prime Minister James Callaghan officially opened the venue during the Labour Party conference being held in the building at the time.
“I have felt part of this project since the first days,” he said, revealing that in the early 70s he was asked, as a possible user of the building, for his advice on facilities.
“I was present at the conception, I have watched the gestation, and here I am at the birth of what I hope will be a very lusty infant.”
He added that all great projects had their critics, but the new centre would be a credit to the town.
Before the address by Mr Callaghan there was an impressive speech from Councillor Stanley Theobald. Speaking without notes, Councillor Theobald gave a history of the centre, using worlds such as ‘courageous’, ‘prestigious’, ‘enlighted’, ‘visionary’ and ‘inspired’ to describe the building and the council’s decision to commit to the project.
Thousands of ratepayers, admitted free for the ceremony, applauded when Councillor Theobald paid tribute to them.
“It’s your money we have been spending,” he said, “But as the years go by you will feel it was money well spend and will see a more than adequate return.”
Regarded as one of the finest venues in the country, the Centre offered top class conference facilities to organisers and delegates alike.
All three major political parties held successful conferences at the venue, and the city became synonymous with high profile conferences and events, and continues to do so today.
Through the dedication of the Brighton Centre team and the iconic location of the building, right on the seafront, we continue to generate millions for the local economy, winning conferences, entertainments, and events business from all over the world. With the continuous investment into the fabric of the building by Brighton & Hove City Council the venue continues to go from strength the strength.