Southport prepares to take £75m events centre plunge
Top-level local approval is sought to progress the development of an all-purpose venue and waterside attraction, the banner project in its £37.5m Town Deal.
Sefton Council’s cabinet will next week be asked to sign off on plans to take forward the most ambitious of a raft of options for the Southport Theatre & Convention Centre complex and the marine lake.
The plans feature a new venue with a 1,200-capacity auditorium, exhibition space and co-working areas. A water, light and sound attraction would also be delivered at the marine lake.
Since the Town Deal funding was confirmed, reduced from an initial £50m bid, outline business cases have been developed by a design team including venue specialist IPW, HOK Architects, cost consultancy Gardiner & Theobald, and Aecom.
The project has been allocated £33.3m of the Town Deal allocation, while the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is also committing £20m.
Should this project advance, the existing Southport Theatre & Convention Centre would not reopen. According to the report from the council’s chief executive of place, reopening for two years would mean finding a further £160,000 for operating costs, plus a one-off sum of up to £40,000 for deep-cleaning and making it safe.
The STCC facilities as they stand primarily consist of three spaces: a 1,600 seat theatre auditorium, the Floral Hall Ballroom and the sub-divisible Waterfront Suite. Both the ballroom and suite are capable of hosting 700 delegates.
The complex has long been regarded as due for an overhaul. Hopes were raised in 2018 when long-term leaseholder Ambassador Theatre Group was replaced by incoming operator Bliss on a three-year management deal. Bliss had previously bought the nearby Ramada hotel and then the Waterfront scheme developed by Neptune.
Following the Covid-prompted closure of the theatre last year, its operating vehicle was put into liquidation, with the council taking back possession.
The cabinet is presented with five options of escalating ambition: doing nothing; doing the bare minimum in delivering existing bookings; developing a new STCC; doing same with waterfront activity; and option five, which is recommended.
This requires a total investment of around £75m. According to the report compiled for cabinet, “engagement is ongoing with potential funding partners and investors” for the £20m or so required on top of LCR and Town Deal support.
According to the report, a comprehensive delivery strategy is being produced to guide delivery over the next 10 months, with steps including operator procurement, full business case (for both the Town Deal and the LCR CA funding), detailed design and planning application submission.