A multi-million pound concert hall at University College Chester represents a huge cultural boost for the city. With the prospect of a renowned music hall on our doorstep, Chronicle reporter MARC BAKER yesterday joined others to celebrate the good news.
THE boss of Chester's Gateway Theatre yesterday embraced plans to build a multi-million 1,000-seater performing arts centre at University College Chester.
Though the venue would be bigger than a new arts centre replacing the Gateway as part of the Northgate Development, Jasmine Hendry says an extra concert venue for Chester is 'great news'.
That feeling will undoubtedly be echoed today when potential college students, Cestrians and business people wake up to the good news that a multi-purpose venue could be built in Chester.
Like many people, college principal Professor Timothy Wheeler is tired of seeing famous artists bypass Chester for Liverpool and Manchester and hopes the concert hall will be open by summer, 2006.
A concert hall would be a big boost for the city as many feel it is what Chester desperately lacks.
Prof Wheeler is excited about the plans, approved by college governors last Tuesday, but feels they will be controversial in the light of proposals which are already well-advanced for the new performing arts venue in the city centre.
However, that idea was refuted yesterday when Ms Hendry welcomed the news, hoping a new and improved Gateway would work with the college venue in years to come.
'I think that anything that extends the availability of the arts to the Chester and Cheshire community and young people is a very good thing,' said Ms Hendry, who took over the role of Gateway chief executive in May 2001.
'The Gateway closes on March 31, 2006, and a new performing arts centre, as part of the Northgate Development, opens in December 2007. The college venue will obviously fill that gap.
'I don't see the college venue as a threat at all. It's great news for Chester. It will give people greater access to the arts.'
As well as being open to the public, the venue would be a key element in some students' education at the college, as well as enhancing Chester's reputation as a big business conferencing city.
The venue is expected to play host to regular student gigs by welcoming leading bands, and these concerts may well be open to the public.
Profits from ticket sales from any concerts at the centre would be ploughed back into the college.
The prospect of student gigs at the arts centre was welcomed by Stuart Nicholson, the newly elected president of the Chester Students' Union.
'It's going to be brilliant for students,' he said. 'It will certainly put Chester's name on the map and raise the profile of the city. It would be brilliant if we got big-name bands down to the college.
'We could then have regular gigs that students could go to as well as members of the public.'
Though the venue will have a total of 1,000 seats, it will only able to accommodate between 400-600
people for concerts, while it will be open to capacity for business conferences. However, 1,000 seats could be available if a smaller act played at the college, such as a comedian.
As well as the main auditorium, the venue will also feature seven other multi-use performance studios, which will be used by college students. They may also be thrown open to be used by the public.
Ann Farrell, portfolio holder for cultural affairs at Chester City Council, was delighted. 'Anything that adds to culture in Chester is welcomed,' she said. 'It's going to very useful and I hope it will complement the new performing arts centre to be built in Chester as part of the Northgate Development. I hope it will not compete.'
Prof Wheeler says his college needs a performing arts centre, especially when it is bidding for university status.
'The centre will be mainly used for our students during term time, out of term time for business conferencing and for the public at weekends,' he said. 'We need such a facility because the college is growing.'
He says adequate parking will be provided on campus for centre visitors, but added the college is already working on a green travel scheme.
Staff and students are already being encouraged to car share or cycle to work and that ethos may be adopted for the centre.
Prof Wheeler is working with Chester City Council to establish whether an existing Park & Ride bus service can include the college on its route and 100 parking spaces will be available at the college's business school in Liverpool Road with further spaces at the main Parkgate Road campus.
However, the promise of parking may not go down well with everyone - particularly residents in the Parkgate Road and Liverpool Road areas who may feel the centre will increase traffic.
University College Chester plans to submits its application to Chester City Council in the autumn. A number of people have worked on the college arts centre project, including Ben Broughton, senior lecture in media for performance at University College Chester; Simon Piasecki, senior lecturer and programme leader for drama theatre studies; and Dr Peter Harrop, head of performing arts.