The City of Lincoln Council refused a seven-figure bid from a Lincoln businessman to buy The Lawn and turn it into a hotel and conference centre.
Hotelier Jonathan Pass, owner of Charlotte House Hotel, placed the bid after the City Council decided to put the complex for sale in 2011.
The council said the Lincoln businessman was the only one to put in a bid for the complex, despite “a significant number of interested parties,” between 15 and 20.
But councillors decided at an Executive meeting on Monday evening (during items where the press was excluded) not to accept the bid for a number of reasons.
Councillors said it was not possible to compare the bid with anything else to see if this was the best option for tax payers, given the historical background of The Lawn.
The bid also fell short of the council’s expectation on price. The City Council purchased The Lawn in 1986 for £425,000.
The council said discussions with the bidder suggested a lack of synergy with the council’s vision for the site, including the public open space, and an indication that the bidder would want greater flexibility of use of the site.
The City Council put The Lawn on sale last year because retaining the property was no longer feasible due to maintenance costs.
There is a £50,000 per year deficit in running costs for The Lawn, it takes some £120,000 for repairs per year, and it would need some £2.5 million capital investment over the coming years.
The Lawn site totals around 1.62 hectares and includes three main buildings, the main complex, the conservatory and Charlotte House (which is subject to a long-term lease), as well as the south lawn and car parking.
Formerly a hospital, the main complex was built in 1819, with Charlotte House added in 1938 and then the conservatory in 1989.
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of the City Council, said: “We stand by our decision to put The Lawn up for sale because of the ongoing costs of its maintenance and because it does not fit with the council’s current priorities.
“However it is vitally important that we explore every possible option before agreeing to sell such an important public asset and although it is not the primary driver, we must ensure that any sale provides a fair return to the public purse.”
Hotelier Jonathan Pass said: “I’m very disappointed. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into this project.
“Our proposals were very straight forward. It’s been a long sale process, and to have a U-turn at this 11th hour is disappointing.
“This is an opportunity missed for the city and the people.
“It would have created a stately home for Lincoln and provide greater public access, enhanced amenities, with a pub restaurant and conferencing to a new level.”
The City of Lincoln Council said it is still selling The Lawn, but it will take its time with the sale, as they seek to re-market the complex in the near future.