Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall and Lodge were gifted to the people of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1883 by Sir William George Armstrong with the deed stating they should be used for lectures, recitals, concerts, banquets and meetings under the themes of the arts, literature, science or education.
But now they are in need of investment at a time when austerity has hit the local authority hard.
The council is asking for expressions of interest from businesses, groups and organisations, who can suggest new ideas of how to help refurbish and use the buildings – as one unit – under leasehold in keeping with the wishes of the Victorian benefactor.
The Banqueting Hall, including a controlled ruin on the lower level of the building is currently occupied on a six-month rolling tenancy with local arts group, the Armstrong Studio Trust, while The Lodge, former staff accommodation, is vacant.
The successful bidders will have to demonstrate a clear plan of action showing how both buildings can be repaired and redeveloped and how the ongoing maintenance costs will be funded. In addition they will need to consider how the tenancy will be dealt with in the context of the overall scheme.
Cabinet member for culture and communities councillor Kim McGuinness said: "Jesmond Dene Banqueting Hall and Lodge are etched into the heritage of the city as widely-respected examples of classical Victorian architecture. This is a rare and exciting opportunity to breathe new life into the much-loved buildings and help to secure their future whilst remaining true to their original ideology and purpose.
"We're committed to this original purpose, it was Sir William Armstrong's wish that the park and its buildings serve the city, that they should be places to facilitate art and creativity and to empower people with knowledge and education. We very much look forward to receiving creative suggestions over the coming months to complement our Green Flag Awarded park."
The council hopes its invitation will allow people to creatively think about how to best use the buildings’ location, assets, heritage and future income, with any development being subject to planning and Listed Building Consent.
In July, the council approved the first step in plan by its parks transformation team to transfer the authority's parks and allotments to a new Parks Charitable Trust, after the authority ran out of money to fund them. The team will now work up detailed proposals.