he us$ 22.3 million restoration of the Grade-II listed building includes many of the original features, some of which have not been seen for decades. The external refurbishment of the roof and facade has been completed and work on the interior will start next month, with the building due to open in 2011.
Original features such as Flemish Renaissance plasterwork, mosaics and ornate balustrades will be refurbished, and even the Roman centurion statues on the roof have been recast.
The Hippodrome was built in 1900 for variety performances and became a cabaret restaurant in the Fifties. It was reinvented as a nightclub in 1983, but has stood empty since October 2005, when its last operator failed to get a new license. In 2002 plans to convert it into shops, restaurants, bars and amusement arcades failed as the owner refused to include space for live shows.
The Save London Theatres Campaign persuaded Westminster council to insist on the retention of live performances in any future scheme to maintain the building's 100-year tradition. When the Hippodrome's lease was offered on the market it attracted considerable interest, including from London's three main theatre-owning groups as well as several well-known retail brands.
However, each of these withdrew as it became clear it would not be economically viable because of the cost of the extensive restoration required. The casino will be the largest in central London, in a location where 250,000 people pass daily and nearly 39 million use the Underground station each year.
Simon Thomas, chairman of United Leisure Gaming Limited, the company behind the scheme, said: "Our ambition is to return the Hippodrome to its rightful place as one of the country's leading leisure destinations and, not least, to secure its future as a venue offering live entertainment. "Although London has many casinos most of these are quite small, often located below ground, and tend to cater only for gambling."
The Thomas family is an experienced gaming operator, having sold Beacon Bingo for us$ 119.4 million in 2006. Audrey Lewis, Westminster council's cabinet member for customers and neighborhoods, said: "When the venue was run as a nightclub, there was a series of disturbances on the premises. We feel that the venue will serve people better and be safer as a casino."