The first artists’ impressions of Chester’s £40.5m theatre and cultural venue were unveiled on Wednesday, 29 August.
Bennetts Associates, the London-based specialists leading the concept design project, produced cross-sectional and front elevation views of the complex at the heart of the borough’s cultural offer.
And next Wednesday, 5 September, members of Cheshire West and Chester Executive will be asked to approve the steps which will transform a long-held vision into glittering reality by March 2016.
It is proposed that the one acre-plus site currently housing the former Odeon Cinema, Commerce House, its car park, and 49 Northgate Street will feature:
A 800-seat theatre; fully integrated £5m-plus central library; a 200-seat studio theatre; two studio cinemas – 120 and 80 seats – cafes and bars.
The Executive is being recommended to agree a bid for £5m of Arts Council capital investment funding; the re-location of Chester Central Library to the theatre site… and the operation of the theatre by a charitable company limited by guarantee.
Members are also asked to endorse the establishment of a fundraising Campaign Board to work together with the theatre’s operating company; the concept design report and a procurement exercise for a multi-disciplinary design team.
A report to Executive by Director of Regeneration and Culture, Charlie Seward stresses that inclusion of the library brings key benefits to the theatre through an annual footfall of more than 300,000 – supporting aspirations for 9am to 10pm activity within the building.
“There are novel and exciting synergies between library activity and theatre programming” said Mr Seward. “The profile of library users will present the theatre with an opportunity to engage with new and particularly younger audiences.”
The proposal allows deficiencies in the current library to be tackled, including the location of the children’s library in the basement; noise management and maintenance of quiet zones.
“Potential for shared learning, education and outreach services will meet a previously underdeveloped area of library activity and the shared use of cafes and meeting spaces will provide enhanced facilities for library users,” said the Director.
He reports that the theatre project team have liaised with the Arts Council North West Office and the inclusion of the library is seen as a ‘positive development’ by that body.
An accepted concept design report will form the basis of the Council’s Stage 1 Arts Council funding bid to be submitted by mid September.
This will prompt a further period of intensive design work to refine the proposal to planning application stage in Summer, 2013, followed by site preparation work scheduled for Spring 2014.
Indicative building costs are estimated at: theatre £33.8m; library £5.4m and cinemas £1.35m. The Council’s capital programme will provide £23m; £6m from fundraising; £5m from the Arts Council and £6.75m from other council funding sources.
Councillor Stuart Parker, Executive Member Culture and Recreation, said: “The theatre complex will deliver significant community benefits through formal and informal education programmes, outreach and inclusion initiatives, both within Chester and across the Borough.
“It will act as a catalyst to drive economic regeneration and is an absolutely essential element of the future cultural offer for this borough.
“Demolition of the eight floor Commerce House – the third tallest building in Chester city centre – will take place early next year and an archaeological desk-based assessment report on the site has been completed.