In what is without doubt one of the most incredible retailer visits we've been on, BikeBiz toured the 20 year untouched Victorian Baths under Hastings' promenade ahead of Source BMX taking up residence later this year. For a full gallery of this project before it's officially begun, click here.
BikeBiz: Tell us about the new venture and proposal for the former baths in Hastings? How did the idea come about?
Rich Moore, Source: We’ve been working on a project for over 18 months now that involves bringing a big Victorian building back into use as a giant indoor BMX park and retail store. Most people would never know that this enormous building under Hastings seafront and beach has lain derelict for almost 20 years and we’ve found a way to make it in to something positive for BMX and the town. It’s hard to explain, but to say we’re excited about it is an understatement. We’ve always known about the building as most of Hastings’ residents, including our parents, learnt to swim in there if they were at school before 1980 and after that it was an Ice Rink where I skated a couple of times as a kid. Everyone rides the spots above ground too; Marc had a couple of clips manualing the fountain above the main skatepark in our first full-length video.
How’s it being funded?
We approached our local council with a proposal to rent the building at market rate providing they paid to get it in to a safe and secure shell before we occupied it. It’s been hard work, but we’ve spent 18 months working with the council to ascertain the cost and then helping them to raise the £1.1m required to make it happen. Once they’ve spent this, on building work, electrics, leak repairs, ventilation, fees etc then we’ll move in as tenants and be responsible for fitting it out with ramps, our shop and a café; we’ve had a grant to pay for just under half of our c.£220k costs and are borrowing the rest from HSBC.
You’ve uncovered plenty of nostalgia in the underground chambers – what have been the best finds so far?
A lot of the valuable Victorian stuff was looted long ago, but there’s tons of retro lighting, roller skates etc. The temporary 1970’s skatepark under the old roller disco floor is pretty interesting too; and all the Victoria steam rooms and baths.
You plan to preserve as much of the original detail as you possibly can – is that right?
Yeah, what we can. The building architecture itself is really interesting and then we’re preserving as much of the marble, terrazzo and oak panelling as possible in our shop – it’s the former smoking lounge that the Victorians used before their steam baths/syphilis curing.
How much square footage will you open for riding and how much for the new shop?
The main skatepark is around 12,000ft2, plus 360-degree viewing on two levels for up to 600 spectators. The beginner’s skatepark is around 7000ft2 and the retail store is 5000ft2. There’s also a ton of auxillary/reception rooms and office space, plus an equipment rental room, café, and outdoor ramp space.
The general public will be able to watch riders from the promenade above – do you think this will draw some curious viewers to the sport?
Yeah, for sure. It’s rare to find a skatepark in such a prominent town centre/beach location, so the outdoor ramp should get a lot of attention from the main road and promenade next to the pier; hopefully it will be intriguing enough to get people underground to go and see the main attraction.
Who will the park be open to?
It will be open to BMXers and skateboarders ten hours a day, seven days a week. We’ll publish session times before we open and might allow the odd jump bike session as well if there’s demand.
When do you foresee doors opening to the public?
If all goes well, we should be open in November this year.
What’s the greatest challenge you anticipate you’ll face in the build?
We’ve been working with the council and their appointed team of architects and experts for almost 12 months now to figure out all of the complications that a build like this brings, so hopefully all the problems have been worked out by now. That stuff is not directly our responsibility, but it’s been really interesting to be involved. It’s crazy how complex working on a subterranean building of this age is; especially given it has no electricity supply, no plumbing and a bit of concrete deterioration from where they mixed it with sea water without thinking about rust. The experts are very upbeat about it going to plan and budget though; it’s all fairly predictable work. The hardest bit from our point of view will be getting our entire skatepark in through a 10ft by 10ft hatch on the seafront.
The build presents fresh job opportunities in Hastings too? Totally; we’re expecting to create 14 full-time equivalent jobs in the town. It is going to be a big deal locally; there’ll be brown tourist signs and everything.
So the Source is moving to the seafront too? Yeah, we’re moving our shop and everything that entails to the new venue. However, our warehouse will stay in our current church building five minutes away as there isn’t the space to run our mail-order business from down there. We’re expecting the prominent location and bigger store to give us a lot more footfall and expose more people to riding and skating in a positive way.
How’s the BMX market been lately?
BMX has had a pretty tough couple of years with the market saturated and lots of cheap product out there. It has always felt pretty strong in terms of riders and facilities though and it feels like it might be picking up again. BMX is still really niche, so riders mostly buy from mailorders who have what they want in stock, or if they’re lucky enough to have access to a well stocked retailer that supports BMX, then riders will buy locally.
In many ways, that has never changed; BMX shops hardly existed at all when we were kids, so we bought over the phone and now riders buy from websites if they don’t have a shop to go to.
You won the Ride Awards retailer gong again this year – why do you think riders keep voting for you?
We really care about BMX and our customers, so we’ve spent years investing in our service and holding hundreds of thousands of pounds of the correct stock in order to provide a really good service. Basically, we live the business and put back in to BMX; the industry wouldn’t be what it is today without brands, distributors and shops putting back in as much as they can to make things better.
You’ve quite a stacked team of pro riders on the books now – how does supporting these guys help the business/sport?
We’ve always supported riders and put a lot in to creating original content and helping to portray BMX well. We’ve got lots of plans for the coming year and having the new place will be a huge boost to this. We’re planning some massive events down there in the coming years, which will give BMX a boost in Hastings and further afield.
Any tips for those retailers considering dabbling in BMX, but perhaps not sure where to start?
It can be baffling for a non-BMX specialist at first as there are so many brands and products and it would cost a fortune to stock everything. I’d recommend just picking some complete bikes and key parts from a handful of real BMX brands and doing a good job of selling and stocking them. If the scene starts around a shop then you can grow it from there.