CHESTER must get behind the planned cultural complex to end the six-year wait for a new theatre, says the man leading the ambitious scheme.
Graham Lister is tasked with turning Cheshire West and Chester Council’s £40.5 million vision for the former Odeon into reality.
He described missing out on £5m in Arts Council funding as “disappointing” but insists the project is still on track, although he would not rule out further delays.
“Chester has been without a theatre for too long,” said Mr Lister, who was appointed as project director earlier this month.
“My job is to deliver a sustainable theatre – it is as clear as that. The project is not going to get shelved.
“It is important that as a city we all get behind the project so we create an overwhelming situation where there is a strong public desire for this project to go ahead.”
Mr Lister said it would be “silly” to think the Arts Council decision would not impact on the timescale but the council hoped to succeed in the next funding round.
He said the council’s application had been recommended for approval but was ultimately overlooked in favour of other bids.
“The latest setback with the Arts Council is disappointing but I would say they are currently carrying out a reorganisation,” he said.
“They have just taken £11.5m in cuts from central government and they are expecting more cuts in 2013. We are living in difficult times.
“The Arts Council are not closing the door on us. They are saying they want to find a way the project can succeed – that is very positive and it will help us going forward.”
The next round of funding is expected to open in April or May, although a decision is unlikely before the end of the year.
Mr Lister, who has worked in theatre for 30 years, was involved with the development of the Curve theatre in Leicester and a new performing arts centre in Doncaster.
He believes ongoing debates about whether the council has chosen the right location and plans to move the library need to be put to bed in order for the project to succeed.
“I am aware of the discussion that have gone on about the location and I would say you have chosen the right option,” he said.
“I cannot reiterate how important it is to embed the theatre in the heart of the city. I think the theatre will kick-start the Northgate scheme.”
Featuring an 800-seat theatre, a 200-seat studio theatre, two studio cinemas along with cafes, bars and the library, the complex has been scheduled to open in 2016.
CWaC has earmarked £23m for the project with plans to put in another £6.75m and had hoped the Arts Council would provide £5m.
The council also hopes to raise £6 million in donations and contributions.
Mr Lister said the council had shown “real commitment” and he is confident he can achieve the
£6 million fundraising target.
“Cultural capital projects like this are incredibly tricky because they are so high profile and they involve multiple funding streams,” he said.
“There is a real commitment from the council and £29 million is a really significant amount of money in this day and age.
“By the end of the summer the procurement process will be complete and we will have arrived at a budget and have the design team in place and we will get cracking.”