The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle

The Elite Ayrshire Business Circle

Friday, 5 September 2008

Ayr Racecourse and Western House Hotel put up for sale

By: Murdoch MacDonald

AYRSHIRE businessmen Alan Macdonald and Richard Johnstone announced their decision today to put Ayr Racecourse and Western House Hotel up for sale.

They cited a combination of the poor state of the housing market and the planning system in Scotland as the reasons behind their decision.

Alan Macdonald and Richard Johnstone bought the racecourse just over five years ago and have overseen a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of Scotland’s premier racecourse.

More than £14 million has been spent on a raft of improvements including the four-star Western House Hotel - Ayrshire’s premier wedding venue - the Princess Royal Banqueting Suite and Conference Centre and upgraded hospitality facilities.

[Pictured: Co-owner Alan Macdonald at Ayr Racecourse.]

Major investment has also been made in racing, with prize money for races including the two flagship fixtures the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival and the John Smith’s Ayr Gold Cup Festival being substantially increased.

Ayr has thrived over the last five years, attendance figures have shown sustained increases, and the 2008 crowds to date boast the highest attendances at the track for more than 50 years. Advance ticket sales for this month’s John Smith’s Ayr Gold Cup Festival also sit at a record high.

Ayr Racecourse general manager William Gorol (pictured above) said: “It’s business as usual. We are very proud of what we have achieved, and we look forward to providing the same high standards for the new owners.

“We are immensely proud of the team at Ayr Racecourse and Western House Hotel. Over the past few years we have successfully built a reputation as Scotland’s premier leisure destination, achieving accolades for both quality of food and service. I am confident that one of the key attractions for any new owner will be the professionalism of the team and the high standards they consistently achieve.

“It’s very much a case of business as usual.”

Christie & Co have been appointed as agents to oversee the sale of the leasehold racecourse and the freehold Western House Hotel.

Ayr Racecourse chairman Alan Macdonald spoke of the decision to sell and the reasons for doing so.

He said: “Richard and I stated when we bought the course five years ago that our intentions were to restore Ayr to its former glory and to ensure a long term sustainable future as Scotland’s only Grade One track.

“Cross-funding to finance both that goal and to also bring all the facilities up to a high standard was to come from residential and commercial developments on surplus land held by the racecourse.

“The planning process took five years, considerably longer than anticipated, and we had to go to Public Inquiry, but finally in May this year the process was completed.

“We now have planning consents in place for these developments, but the property market is such that it could be a few years before value can be realised from this.

“Having already spent £14 million on taking the business to where it is now and growing our status both as a racecourse and as the operator of one of Scotland’s finest hotels, we feel the time is right to invite offers from people who feel they can take it to the next level. More importantly Richard and I need to believe these are the right people.

“Significantly both these businesses - the racecourse and the hotel - operate on a profitable basis.”

Attendances of all the major meetings at Ayr have shown dramatic increases, with the Coral Scottish Grand National Saturday topping 17,000 this year - a rise of more than 8% on 2007 - while Coral Scottish Grand National Friday was 43.5 % up, and the two Family Days up by 19% and 14%.

Ayr also staged the Saints and Sinners Racenight for the first time this year, and almost 8000 people attended.

Western House Hotel (pictured above and below) has been voted Scotland’s Wedding Hotel of the Year in both 2007 and 2008 and was also awarded a Thistle Award for Customer Care by VisitScotland. The Princess Royal Centre will cater for more than 40,000 banquet covers in 2008 and a host of major conferences including the Scottish Conservative Party Conference.

Alan Macdonald added: “We have turned a sleeping giant into a vibrant multi-purpose business but the time is right to hand the baton over.”



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