A bespoke cinema will give the public ‘a distinctive offer’ within Chester city centre as part of the £300m retail-driven Northgate Development.
Picturehouse Cinemas have been selected to operate a six-screen venue, with more than 715 seats, located above a new market hall on the site of the current bus exchange behind the library.
Picturehouse, a former independent group, shows both current blockbusters and art house films.
Each outlet is unique to its surroundings. The Chester operation will feature a cafe-restaurant within the foyer and a roof terrace and bar overlooking a new Market Square.
A lease has been agreed with Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) who are driving the project, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of Northgate as the first big name to be signed up to the latest version of the regeneration scheme.
The news is timely as planning consent is sought for the entire development at CWaC’s planning committee next Thursday (September 15).
Cestrians and tourists must currently travel to Vue at Cheshire Oaks or Cineworld at Broughton to watch movies after the city’s last cinema – interestingly, run by Picturehouse owners Cineworld – closed in 2013.
However, the new cultural centre Storyhouse, which opens next spring, featuring a 850-seat theatre and relocated main library, will also include a single screen cinema showing art house films.
Announcing the Picturehouse deal, council chiefs stressed the operator will provide ‘a distinctive offer’ attractive to traditional residents, students and visitors alike, especially given the proximity of the two large multiplexes.
Formed in 1989 to challenge the multiplex model, Picturehouse Cinemas own and operate 23 cinemas and programme a further 45 venues across the UK – in places such as Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Oxford and York, with the Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton being Britain’s longest continually operating cinema, having first opened in 1910.
The match between Chester and Picturehouse was described by Clare Huber, CWaC’s senior construction manager, as ‘the right fit’. Shadow cabinet member Cllr Stuart Parker said its high quality offering would complement the Storyhouse cultural centre whose single screen 100-seat cinema will show films that chime with the theatre programme.
Lyn Goleby, Picturehouse managing director, said: “We have wanted to operate a cinema in Chester for many years and this location in the heart of the city will give us a very central location to create a vibrant hub of film-related activity. Our programme will cover mainstream and world cinema and a wide range of cultural content. We very much look forward to opening and hope that Picturehouse will make a big contribution to the life of the city centre.”
Cllr Brian Clarke , cabinet member, economic development and infrastructure, said: “Picturehouse stood out from the competition because of its sheer enthusiasm for running a cinema in Chester and the programming offer it proposed. I’m looking forward to welcoming them to the city, they will form a major part of the exciting Northgate development.”
Retail expert David Lewis of Rivington Land, development manager for Chester Northgate, told a press conference the ‘jigsaw is starting to take shape’.
He said: “Securing Picturehouse as the leisure anchor represents an important milestone in the delivery of Chester Northgate. The quality of their operation will raise the bar of the leisure offer in the city.”
The main library will be relocated into the new cultural centre with the building converted into a restaurant hub as part of the first phase of Northgate.
And Mr Lewis confirmed talks were taking place with restaurant operators who do not currently have a presence in Chester, adding: “The level of interest shown from the cinema market and now subsequently by the food and beverage operators shows what confidence occupiers have in Chester as a strong trading location. Significant and tangible progress on the delivery of this scheme is building nicely in a market place bereft of many new high-quality, retail-led developments.”
Mr Lewis said there was also ‘interest’ from retailers to build the key department store anchor for Northgate but he was not at liberty to share details.
The investment strategy, to ensure the scheme as whole has financial backing, will go before full council at the end of the year.
If the scheme gets the go-ahead, construction of the first main phase is programmed to begin in early 2018, with the cinema, adjacent hotel, new market, cafés and restaurants anticipated to open in late 2019.
■ Picturehouse Cinemas seek to set themselves apart from their main multiplex competitors by incorporating café bars, restaurants and live events alongside traditional movie-going. The company pioneered live satellite cine-casts showing events from around the world and is now a leading UK distributor of event cinema content, including plays from Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Opera House, National Theatre, Kenneth Branagh Live and many more.