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To be or not to be?

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Chester in Concert - Theatre Design Study - Scheme C - K.E. Martin Architects - August 2011

Dodleston resident Lynne Russell makes the case for ‘the only sensible choice’ for Chester’s proposed theatre. 13th October is when the Council will finally decide on the location of the new theatre for Chester.

The obvious choice is the Latham /Gibson / Woods option, simply because this option would not only provide a purpose built theatre in the centre of Chester, but also an art deco cinema right beside it. That’s two centres of cultural entertainment, in the middle of the town.

Former Lord Mayor and architect, Jim Latham, together with Chester Philharmonic’s Roger Gibson, and David Woods have submitted their plans to the Council, for a purpose built theatre. These plans were executed exactly to the Council’s required specification.

This option would provide an 800-seat main stage, amply large enough to entice and cater for the big touring companies; plus a 350-seat studio. There will be three entrances (see the ground floor level plan, below), one in Princess Street, one in Hunter Street and the third through the centre arch of the Library in Market Square. As a windfall benefit to this option, the Library will be extended and enhanced where the back of the Library and the front of the theatre merge.

This purpose built theatre has been costed at £25 million.

For an additional sum, the Odeon could be re-instated as a cinema. It will work as a cinema. It was designed to be one!

The other two options are:-

1. The Roodee. This option will cost upwards of £50 million. That’s twice the price of the Latham / Gibson / Woods option. This eye-watering amount of money is necessary not only to construct a theatre, but also to re-route traffic and to provide a comprehensive dam to keep the Dee out of the building. And whilst Cestrians will pay for this option and be inconvenienced by it, the commercial / retail part of the City, won’t benefit from it. Even the Councillors concede that anything on the outside on the outside of the town doesn’t draw people into the town.

2. The Odeon. This option has not yet been costed. It is now accepted that this Grade II Listed building is too small and the wrong shape to accommodate a theatre. And it’s not just the outside of the building that is Listed, the inside is too. Of course there have been successful Odeon conversions elsewhere. But were all these other conversions Grade II Listed art deco buildings, or could the inside be completely gutted? Unless we know the back story, the architectural constraints, and the building alternatives of these other conversions, they mean nothing. If there were no alternative building sites, then they did the best they could with what they had. Chester has an alternative building site, next door to the Odeon, behind the Library.

Whichever theatre site is chosen, Cestrians will be paying the bill. The Roodee’s overpriced £50 millionplus option is a vanity project. It will look great. It will bring nothing to Chester. The unpriced Odeon option will be a cobbled together, make-do building. The inside cannot be razed and re-designed. It is Grade II Listed. We will end up a building not fit for purpose. But this option will still cost millions of pounds.

The Latham / Gibson / Woods option is the only sensible choice. £25 million for a purpose built theatre in the centre of Chester. For an extra sum, the art deco Odeon revived as a cinema beside it.

That’s two cultural entertainment sites in the right place, at the right price.

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Chester in Concert - Theatre Design Study - Scheme C - K.E. Martin Architects - August 2011

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