A beating heart could soon find its way back into the Royal Green Man Hotel. Gareth Butterfield takes a look at early plans for a new gastro-pub at the St John Street venue.
WE had to put a lot of faith in businessman Colin Wright, when he finally stepped forward as the new owner of the Green Man Royal Hotel in February 2013.
Mr Wright, chairman of a string of local companies who lives with his family in Fenny Bentley, put an end to what had been an extremely tumultuous journey for the hotel when he bought it shortly after a second failed attempt to sell the St John Street building's freehold at an auction in Nottingham.
But, in many ways, his purchase marked the start of another journey – perhaps the most important in its history.
Plans were drip-fed to the News Telegraph of how the business and the building could be saved, which raised one or two eyebrows.
The biggest controversy arrived when it was announced that the former Johnson and Boswell bars, which had been the backdrop for many happy nights out, would be turned into a shop.
The bombshell put paid to a misty-eyed vision many in the town had of the Green Man being brought back to what it used to be. A vision that, in reality, would not have been viable in the economic climate.
Mr Wright and his team knew that whatever emerged from their rescue attempt would have to look very different if it was to once again become the centre-piece of life in Ashbourne – and they made no secret of the fact that it would be changing.
So we had no choice but to sit back and put our trust in them, catching glimpses of work as we walked past.
The announcement that the first phase would involve a large shop, swallowing up the two beloved bars, was soon followed by an announcement that Ashbourne fashion store Young Ideas, owned by Mr Wright's wife, Anne, would be the Green Man's first new resident.
There was still some cynicism at this stage but, when Young Ideas opened again in its new home, it was obvious that a high-quality job had been done and the signs were good that the team were ready to deliver on their promise of making a proper job of nursing the place back to health.
A big question-mark remained, however, over the future of the Green Man as a drinking and eating establishment. Did its sole future lie in providing space for shops?
Although it had been hinted all along that a pub-type venue could be on the cards, a little later down the line another established Ashbourne clothing store – Go Wilde – moved into the next available shop, across the courtyard in a former office and reception space.
Go Wilde's owner, Sue Wilde, said she is happy the firm took the plunge and moved in to the Green Man.
She said: "Go Wilde Clothing are delighted to be part of the new Green Man development.''
But while signs of life are emerging at the front end of the building, there is still plenty of floor space to develop and one of the biggest headaches for the team working on the Green Man has been to settle on a firm plan.
Project manager Mike Gerard-Pearse said: "Every time we walk around the full 22,000 sq ft of the building it lends itself to a new configuration.
"Living with it every day makes you appreciate its sheer scale and the opportunity to create something unique for the town.
"In fact at times it literally whispers what it would like to become and presents you with a new idea that you had not even thought of – although those voices could easily be the ghosts that allegedly walk the corridors of the old hotel!''
As part of the latest announcement, it has been revealed that a third shop area of 1,000 sq ft has been set aside and is close to completion and a new tenant is being sought to make up a planned trio of independent retailers.
Mr Gerard-Pearse said: "This unit is now available to the local business community or anyone with the ambition and vision to open something new and exciting for the local Ashbourne people to enjoy.''
So what about our pub?
Thankfully, the first assurances we've had so far that a pub could make its way back into the heart of the Green Man Royal Hotel have been given this week and, finally, our faith is being rewarded.
One of the next plans is to develop what the team describes as a "family-friendly gastro-pub!". This will use the old ballroom and its lower ground floor, including the space that was used by Leatherbritches Brewery to the rear of the courtyard.
It is mooted the new pub might be called 'The Old Brewery'.
It is hoped the owners of this new pub, which have not yet been confirmed or announced, will be serving a selection of real ales along with food from an open-plan kitchen on the first floor and the pub and restaurant could be open by the end of the year if planning permission is given.
As part of a shift in plans the construction of the pub has been moved forward in the schedule.
Planning permission has just been granted which will allow the demolition of part of the dilapidated rear section so it can be replaced it with an angular, modern extension.
Ashbourne architect Darren Archer explained: "The new structure will be a modern and sympathetic version of a traditional orangery.
"The design will have plenty of natural light, with a high ceiling and minimalist interior finishes.
''One of the most striking aspects will be the outside space which is predominantly south facing and the new terraces will offer quiet exterior seating in a Mediterranean-style courtyard setting."
Demolition is due to start at the end of this month and temporary decking will spring up in its place to give a visual impression of the new building's footprint.
Another new arrival planned in the coming weeks is a "pop up" café hosted by Green Man regulars Union Street Food.
This will at the side of the Young Ideas retail outlet in its own courtyard area with bistro table seating serving Mediterranean sandwiches, drinks and tapas.
This is due to open on selected days during the week, weather permitting.
Sewing all this together will be the return of hotel rooms at the Green Man.
The first eight could be ready by spring 2015 and a further five are being designed for completion later in the year.
Mr Gerard-Pearse added: "The vision for the Green Man is to create an exciting and viable combination of leisure and retail opportunities – a place to eat, drink, shop and sleep.
"With our current business partners and the experienced local interest in the eating establishments, we are off to a great start."