REOPENING Chester’s much-loved Gateway Theatre could be the simplest way of providing an arts venue for a city which used to pride itself on its cultural offerings.
Steve Davies, of Tip Top Productions, which uses the Gateway’s facilities and studio theatre, said: “I don’t know what the situation is today but reopening it would be fantastic.”
He is only too aware of the condition of the building, which has suited his purposes, resulting in growing audiences over the past 18 months.
Mr Davies said the auditorium and main stage were out of bounds.
“It’s not suitable for opening at the moment because there is no equipment in there. Everything has been taken out, including the seats. It will take work and money to reopen it.”
City Cllr Eric Plenderleath, executive member for culture and community, must examine how much it would cost to refit and run and whether his successor council and the Arts Council would fund it.
Other options include a temporary building or ‘pod’, which could be erected somewhere like Grosvenor Park, and a third option is whether the privately-owned former Odeon building can be employed.
He said: “There is no question about it. Chester needs a venue.
“My personal view is that this is a challenge we as a city council will meet.”
International arts consultant Sue Harrison, who is due to take over as chairman of Chester Festivals next year, believes reopening the Gateway would be a good stopgap until top- class facilities come on stream.
Miss Harrison said: “Over the next eight years, we will need something or we will lose our market position but in the long run that shouldn’t stop Chester wanting the very best.”
She said there were a number of existing venues but nothing of the right size.
She added: “If Chester is to be an important European city then it’s important it has high- level cultural facilities where only the arts happen. International visitors won’t necessarily want to go to a concert in a school.
“It’s also about civic pride. It’s important people see their area as having the right kind of venues.”