A NEW £37.5m theatre complex will “turbo-charge” Chester’s reputation and economy, the chairman of Arts Council England has said.
Sir Peter Bazalgette made the comment yesterday during a tour of the Odeon building on Northgate Street, which is set to house an 800-seat theatre, cinema, studio and library.
His organisation has earmarked £3m funding for Cheshire West and Chester Council’s scheme, with a final decision on whether to release the cash expected within weeks.
Sir Peter, a former TV producer, praised the council for its commitment to the arts and culture – especially during a time of austerity.
He told the Leader: “This is a project of immense ambition and it’s very exciting to see the borough council putting its weight behind such a vision for the city.
It’s a real affirmation of the way arts and culture can be a huge agent of regeneration. They lie at the heart of any community.
“This ambitious project reaffirms the power of arts and culture to regenerate a city and turbo-charge its reputation, and stimulate its economy. Broadly speaking, this could be a poster-child for the power of arts and culture.”
Plans for the cultural centre, known as the Re:New Chester development, were given unanimous backing by members of the council’s planning committee earlier this month.
Due to open in 2016, it is estimated that it could pull in an extra 600,000 visitors to the city and £16m of gross expenditure each year.
Sir Peter described the concept of incorporating a library and theatre into the same facility as a “powerful, forward-thinking vision”.
Programme planners could glean an unprecedented level of knowledge of people’s cultural tastes by analysing the library’s most popular books, music and films, allowing them to tailor the production line-up to the population’s preferences, he said.
When asked if theatre was still seen as elitist, he said much was being done to make arts and culture accessible to a broad spectrum of people.
The council plans to ensure people from disadvantaged areas have access to performing arts and that the facilities are available for schools to use and explore.
Sir Peter said: “Arts and culture should be elitist in one way sense only – that they should be bloody good.
“Organisations do have to do more to widen their appeal. There’s a long way to go and we’ve still got a lot to do.”
Before touring the 1930s Odeon, Sir Peter heard presentations from the team behind the design and creation of the city’s cultural centre and the artistic and business model by Chester Performs’ chief executive Andrew Bentley.
Designs were created by the award-winning team responsible for the transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – architects Bennetts Associates, specialist theatre consultants Charcoalblue and Kier Construction.
Following his tour, the Sir Peter met representatives of some of the leading city’s cultural organisations over lunch.
Heritage benefits of the scheme include the re-instatement of the Odeon’s entrance canopy, main foyers, staircases and the sweeping proscenium arch ceiling.
The site falls within the northern section of Chester’s Roman Fortress and excavation is expected to reveal finds of national importance – the majority of which will be preserved for posterity.
Initial ‘digs’ within the Odeon have already unearthed the remains of two Roman roads.
Construction of the new Cultural Centre will create 250 jobs on site at any one time and total of 1,500 through the contract period.