A MULTIMILLION pound performing arts centre which will seat 1,000 people and host large public concerts and theatre productions is planned for University College Chester.
The centre, to be built on the college's main Parkgate Road campus, will be bigger than the planned Northgate Development improvements to the Gateway Theatre and rival some of the region's other theatres.
Like many, college principal Professor Timothy Wheeler is tired of seeing famous artists bypass Chester for Liverpool and Manchester and hopes his concert hall will be open bysummer, 2006.
Money is coming from a variety of public and private sources and the college is also seeking corporate sponsorship.
Asked whether the Duke of Westminster is backing the project financially, Prof Wheeler said: 'You never know!'
The college concert hall is being designed by the London-based architects the Arts Team, responsible for designing Manchester's Bridgewater Hall which recently played host to Pop Idol winner Will Young and 70s star James Brown.
The architects also designed the London Coliseum, home to the English National Opera, and parts of The Lowry Centre in Manchester.
A new concert hall will be a giant boost for the city as many feel it is what it desperately lacks.
Prof Wheeler is excited about the plans, approved by college governors last Tuesday, but feels they will be controversial because of proposals to replace the Gateway Theatre.
He wonders whether 'city fathers' will support a second venue for Chester which could persuade some theatre companies to play at the college to benefit from larger audiences.
With 1,000 seats, the college centre will be on a par with Liverpool's Playhouse Theatre (950 seats), Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre (785), Lyceum Theatre in Crewe (695) and twice the size of The Lowry's Quays Theatre (449).
Prof Wheeler stressed that the centre will be used in term time by students, non-term time for big business conferencing and open to the public Friday-Sundays for music concerts, comedy acts or ballet.
The centre will also offer art exhibition space, enabling local artists to exhibit their work alongside college students.
Prof Wheeler says his college desperately needs a performing arts centre, especially if the college gains university status later this year.
If successful, its student population could double to 20,000 in 10 years - across its Chester and Warrington campuses.
Such success would also spark a massive economic boom for Chester and big companies would flock to the city in search of bright university graduates.
Although ambitious, Prof Wheeler says the concert hall will not be in direct competition with the Gateway.
He added that adequate parking provision for theatre visitors would be available on the main college campus and at the college's business school in Liverpool Road, the former Plantation Hotel.
A full planning application is due to be submitted to the city council in the autumn.