CWAC backs new theatre site

Work can start in earnest preparing plans to transform the former Odeon cinema in Chester city centre into a theatre after councillors voted overwhelmingly to deliver the project.

Politicians at Cheshire West & Chester Council voted 74 to nil, with one abstention, to support the new location, which will cost an estimated £43m to create in the listed Art Deco building. The council has set aside in excess of £20m and will seek the remainder from a variety of sources including arts charities and private sector sponsors.

The council and its advisory team, led by Amion Consulting, will now draw up a detailed business case and design, due to be published by summer 2012.

The city's Gateway theatre closed at the end of 2007 to make way for ING Real Estate's Northgate retail development, which has not materialised.

Cllr Stuart Parker, culture and recreation executive member, said: "This will be a theatre for residents across the borough – not just the people of Chester.

"As a producing theatre it will have links with every section of our communities, particularly, of course, as an educational asset for our young people."

Cllr Parker added: "There will be no compromise on standards. We want the very best. Evidence from the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre shows that people are willing to travel for the right quality of event.

"In fact, 80% of our visitors in 2010 came from within a 60 minute drive, demonstrating that a Chester-based theatre is accessible to all within the borough and for a considerable distance beyond."

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As a Chester resident, I am very excited by the prospect of this project. The development of the old Odeon building is long overdue and a city filled with as much history and culture as Chester is a prime location for a theatre / performance venue. The Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre has been fantastic! Chester residents usually have to visit North Wales or Liverpool/Manchester to see live theatre. I hope that the project gets underway speedily!

By Rebecca Drake