THE keys to a Devonport landmark have been handed over to Plymouth University for it to become a centre of digital gaming.
The historic Devonport Market Hall, built in 1852, will be brought into the 21st century to become a high-tech ‘play market’.
The bells in the refurbished clock tower chimed as Council leader Tudor Evans called the deal a “fantastic Christmas present for Devonport”.
Plymouth City Council, the Devonport based regeneration agency, Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) and Plymouth University have joined forces in the pioneering project that will put digital gaming, an industry worth £53 billion globally, into the heart of Devonport.
The building will provide space and resources for students, new businesses, schools and members of the community.
Cllr Evans said: “This building is coming back to life.
“People are building lives and families are here and it’s great to think that this building will be a part of the future of Devonport.
“It’s exciting, it’s a bit edgy, it’s creative and it’s helping our young people develop skills in a creative industry.
“The market hall was taken over by the military and taken away from the community and it’s really great we can put this building back to the people of Devonport.
“Taking on a building of this size is a risk but I’m very optimistic that this will be something that Devonport is proud to call its own again.”
The council is now the owner of the derelict market hall after the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) formally transferred its ownership to the council and provided a £2.5 million investment to help with the cost of taking on and renovating it.
Once restored, it will be home to the university’s Institute of Digital Arts (i-DAT), there will be a ‘hatchery’ for new firms, a testing ground for established companies and a unique visitor attraction.
RIO has developed a business plan for the play market which aims to entice a new generation of researchers and would-be designers from schools around the city as well as local and international students at the university looking to develop their work.
Ed Whitelaw, Lead Developer at RIO said: “Devonport has a long history of both social and technological innovation.
“Creating a space here for Plymouth University and i-DAT will ensure we can continue in this fine tradition of innovation, create further opportunities for people locally and ensure Devonport is better connected to the rest of the city.”
In the 1960s the Ministry of Defence annexed the building and land around it behind a security wall.
The distinctive Italianate clock tower, clock face and bells have been restored by Redrow, who are leading the regeneration in the area.
The hall has three iron-trussed roofs with iron lattice balconies, supported on iron columns together with a large central staircase.
Professor David Coslett, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Plymouth University, said: “At Plymouth University, we take great pride in being at the heart of our community and using our expertise to inspire a spirit of enterprise and creativity across the city and region. With our partners, we are breathing new life into part of the city’s heritage, and transforming a unique space where our innovation in the digital arts can engage a new audience.”
Steve Jackson, HCA Area Manager added:
“The Market Hall can play a key part in the future of Devonport in a real and vivid way, with local people at the heart of this transformation.
“The council deserves credit for having a clear vision for the site, which we strongly support.”