But its new owners are hoping to breathe new life into the spectacular building and turn the one-acre site into one of the city’s leading destinations once again.
Matsim Properties Ltd, which purchased the property at the beginning of September, is proposing to adapt it into a mixed-use development.
The circular auditorium which – with its richly decorated ceiling in the form of a panelled tent – is the most impressive part of the site, would once again host performances and entertainment, while the surrounding units would be used for food and drink.
Meanwhile the upper floors of Hippodrome House and a new build on Ship Street Car Park would be converted into an apart hotel, and the fly tower would be used as flexible office space.
More than 1,500 people visited the building to find out more about the proposals in May, and take a glimpse at the auditorium.
Simon Lambor from Matsim said of the feedback received so far: “We didn’t have a single negative comment.”
Many people had interesting and personal stories to tell of the building – ‘people who have worked here or their relatives have worked here, who had great stories and knew it inside out’.
The most recent memories of the building will have been from its time as a bingo hall. It was used for this purpose from the last 60s, when the Mecca organisation took it over, until 2006, when it was put on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.
But the Hippodrome has survived many different reincarnations over its 120-year history. Originally opened as an ice-skating rink in 1897, it was converted into a circus in 1901 before being modified into a variety theatre a year later.
In recent years, there have been several attempts to re-imgaine the space – as a music venue, a cinema and as a bespoke hotel.
Mr Lambor said Matsim had been able to learn from all these earlier proposals.
But before any progress can be made on its vision for the site, urgent work is required to save the building. The biggest issue is the roof, which is crumbling and collapsing thanks to years of leaks, poor ventilation and decay. Matsim is currently preparing to build new roof over the existing roof, which waterproof it and allow the detailed ceiling to be refurbished. This work will take place over the next few months, and Mr Lambor hopes a planning application will be submitted by the end of the summer.
If all goes to plan, the building could be ready to open by the end of 2023.
As well as restoring the site to its original function as a place of entertainment, Mr Lambor said: “We’ve looked at utilising as much of the existing building as possible.”
Many of its unique features will be restored and retained, such as the auditorium’s retractable roof.
Meanwhile the elephant ramp, once used by animals being transported from the holding area to the stage, will become a video and audio museum telling the Hippodrome’s rich history.
Matsim also wants to create outdoor dining on Middle Street and is hoping the council will commit to improving the public realm and pedestrianising the road.
“Middle street has sort of been forgotten,” said Mr Lambor. “It used to be one of the prime streets in the city centre.”
Public feedback on the plans is still being sought. To have a say and find out more, visit www.brighton-hippodrome.co.uk