The world-class team to design and build Chester’s £37.5m theatre, library and cinema complex was announced today (Wednesday).
National construction giants Kier Construction and multi-award winning architects, Bennetts Associates, have been chosen to transform the former Odeon Cinema on Northgate Street into an iconic cultural centre.
One of the UK’s leading architectural practices, Bennetts Associates was responsible for the design of the Stirling Prize shortlisted transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the new Hampstead Theatre in London.
Kier Construction has delivered cultural developments such as the Llandudno Theatre, Floral Pavilion, New Brighton and the restoration and extension of Liverpool’s Bluecoat Arts Centre.
Today Councillor Stuart Parker, Executive Member for Culture and Economy, said: “We have signed up a truly world-class double act to deliver the new heart of Chester’s cultural offer. Chester’s cultural offer is essential to the future economy of the city and every £1 spent in that direction produces a return of six times that amount.”
Following the announcement Gary Wintersgill, Managing Director of Kier Construction’s Northern Division, revealed his company’s high targets to boost the local economy during the project’s 19-month life cycle.
Kier Construction is seeking to achieve 70% local labour and subcontractors, and 75% local material suppliers. Additionally there will be in excess of 15 building trade apprenticeships and 38 weeks of training opportunities for local schools and colleges.
The company begins work on site in February 2015 and will employ 250 people at any one time and a total of 1,500 throughout the contract period.
Said Mr Wintersgill: “We are delighted to be part of the team selected to deliver what will be an outstanding new cultural facility for Chester and the wider community.”
Bennetts Associates – which was previously appointed in June 2012 to produce the concept design for the new cultural complex – will begin detailed design work almost immediately.
Bennetts Associates Director Simon Erridge said: “This is the most significant new building project in Chester for decades.
“Chester’s brief is incredibly imaginative, demonstrating that it is possible for redundant buildings to be transformed and regenerate the cultural and economic life of our city centres.”
The 800-seat theatre will be housed in a new building, linked to the existing by open foyer spaces. The Grade II listed Odeon itself is to be restored and converted into a contemporary city library, including a café, study spaces and a 120-seat screen located on the former cinema balcony.
Fully equipped to receive touring productions, the main theatre auditorium will also convert into a 600-seat venue to support Chester-based productions. A separate 150-seat studio will provide flexible rehearsal and education space.
When built in 1936, The Odeon was one of a great number of new cinemas in the UK to employ the distinctive art-deco style. Chester’s building is now one of relatively few survivors. Despite sub-division into five screens in the 1970s, many of the building’s original features have been retained. The proposed scheme will strip out later alterations and restore the original scale and proportions of the building’s interiors.
This is fantastic news said Andrew Bentley, Director, Chester Performs, the Chester-based arts producer which will run the new theatre:
“The project is really gathering momentum now, and this team is perfectly placed to help us build a wonderful, game changing cultural facility for the city.
“We have achieved so much in terms of quality and audiences even without a building in the last few years and this building will be a worthy home for all that. We have so much more to do to further excite audiences and engage communities but this is just the start and Chester Performs are delighted to be working alongside this tremendous team.”