City leaders have launched a charm offensive with powerful players in the arts world as plans to deliver a new £37m theatre take shape.
Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was given a tour around the former Odeon and shown ongoing demolition work at the adjacent Commerce House.
The Odeon will be converted into a theatre, a 1930s-inspired 120-seat cinema and library, with the opening date of the venue, named ‘RE:NEW’, scheduled for autumn 2016 – in time for the 80th anniversary of the original opening in 1936.
Chester MP Stephen Mosley, Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and economy, and project director Graham Lister hosted the minister just a few weeks before Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of The Arts Council, gives a speech at the Chester Business Club dinner which will be attended by senior councillors.
Bids for external funding have been submitted to the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery fund, with decisions expected in the spring.
Cllr Parker told the Secretary of State: “This will be more than a theatre, it will be a cultural centre and integrated within it will be a library and two auditoria – one with 800-seats and one with 550, then there will be another studio theatre, we will have a cinema screen in there for performances and everything else. It will be a centre for culture and entertainment all the way through.”
Mrs Miller praised Tory-led Cheshire West and Chester Council for having the courage to progress the scheme which is viewed as ‘a catalyst for growth’.
She said: “It’s an amazing thing in these difficult economic times to see investment going into culture and the arts. It shows real vision.”
Mrs Miller added: “What is interesting is Chester has such a powerful offering in terms of heritage and retail and a new cultural centre will naturally complement that.”
And she praised the appointment of Mr Lister as project director saying he was a ‘good choice’ given what he had achieved in delivering Leicester’s Curve theatre.
City MP Stephen Mosley said: “The theatre and cinema closed in the last few weeks of the Labour administration before the Conservatives took over politically. So this is the state we are in but this is what we have done about it.”