George donated £700k to arts
THE contribution of architect George Ferguson in saving, and promoting, a well-known attraction in the south of the city has been praised after his political opponents criticised him.
Mr Ferguson, who is standing as an independent candidate to be Bristol's first elected mayor, has been criticised by some Labour backers on social website Twitter over his personal wealth for allegedly being motivated by money.
This promoted one of the trustees of the Tobacco Factory to write to the Post outlining how much Mr Ferguson has done for the building, which was once threatened with demolition but now houses a successful bar and theatre.
Mr Ferguson founded the centre after he bought the building from the receivers in 1995 for £200,000.
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Ali Robertson, the director of the charitable trust which now runs the centre, said he was speaking out because he had been appalled comments "coming from senior members of the Bristol Labour Party that our founder, George Ferguson is motivated mainly be profit".
He said he had asked Mr Ferguson's permission to reveal details about his donations.
Mr Ferguson, 65, set up the trust to run the arts centre after he bought the red-brick building which was formerly part of the Wills' factory and earmarked for demolition.
In his letter, Mr Robertson says: "He remained a trustee until 2008, donating substantial sums throughout. He stepped down once he felt confident that the theatre was sustainable at which point he donated a 25 year rent-free lease.
"In 2009 he took the lease on a run-down garage nearby. We suggested it could be converted into a second theatre and rehearsal room: he agreed, paid for the conversion himself and continues to subsidise rent.
"We have grown enormously (100,000 attendance a year) and have had a hugely positive effect upon the area. The Guardian recently said, 'The Tobacco Factory Theatre is as good an argument as I've ever seen for the importance of the arts in the regeneration of a particular area.'
"We started through George's vision and grew through his personal investment, which totals around £700,000 in cash, borrowed against the building, and £1,300,000 in kind.
"What does he get out of it financially? Free tickets.
"I have recently nominated George Ferguson for The Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy and will be voting for him in the forthcoming mayoral election. "
Mr Ferguson said: "I've never been interested in making money except in the sense of helping to make things happen in Bristol."
Darren Lewis, chairman of the Bristol Labour Party, said: "There can be no doubt that Mr Ferguson has used his substantial wealth to support the arts in Bristol."
But he criticised Mr Ferguson for standing as an independent when he having been a councillor for the Liberal Party in the 1970s and said that the architect should include a greater share of social housing in housing projects.