Former banker finds his Dreamland comes true in reviving Margate

Margate’s newest property empire started with the successful auction bid of £245,000.

In Margate in 2011, that bought an empty Victorian building with a vacant shop at the upper level of the High Street, another empty shop at the lower level of Marine Drive and planning consent for six flats above.

The successful bidder was Nick Conington, who, after a career in finance including 15 years as managing director of Deutsche Bank AG, was taking a different path.

“When I bought it, I didn’t know what it was going to be,” Conington says. “But I was surprised that there were no hotels in Margate, particularly with the opening of the Turner Gallery.”

His first step was to change the planning consent for the site from residential and retail to a hotel. By 2013 the 20-room Sands Hotel opened.

That was only the start of Conington’s adventure into the Margate leisure industry.

As chairman of Sands Heritage, whose board members include experts in finance and leisure, he is managing the amusement park Dreamland, which has reopened after 11 years.

“We signed the lease the night before we opened in June, after a year of negotiation,” he says. “It was a very complex deal.”

The agreement was with Thanet District Council, which had compulsorily purchased Dreamland after two years of litigation with the owners. Funding through grants, including one from the Heritage Lottery Fund, helped pave the way for an £18m redevelopment.

Conington has reinforced his commitment to the resort by buying both the nightclub and pub that border Dreamland, and by living in the town.

After five months of operation Conington is reluctant to reveal visitor numbers, but it is possible the 500,000 annual target will not be reached. He speaks of the problems of the wet August and the M20 to Kent becoming a lorry park - as well as a delay that saw the rebuilt 1920s railway only reopen last month.

Nevertheless, in the next few weeks he will reopen the Escape nightclub. It will have a retro ambience, rather like Dreamland itself, and a new name, yet to be revealed.

“When I bought it, it was just about operating as a nightclub,” he says. “But the owners were never confident that Dreamland would reopen.”

Connington says that he misses some aspects of banking, but says hospitality is a rewarding business - and has his eyes set on growing his Margate empire even further.

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