CONSTRUCTION giant Kier has won the contract to build the new Chester theatre and cultural centre.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) says Kier and architects Bennetts Associates will be tasked with transforming the Grade II listed Odeon building into the long-awaited replacement for the Gateway Theatre.
Kier built the new crematorium in Blacon for CWaC and past projects include the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton and Venue Cymru Llandudno.
London-based Bennetts Associates drew up the concept design for the £37.5m theatre and library and will now begin detailed design work.
Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and economy, said: “We’ve signed up a truly world-class double act to deliver the new heart of Chester’s cultural offer.
“It is essential to the future economy of the city and every £1 spent in that direction produces a return of six times that amount.”
CWaC scaled back the ambitious project in July when it scrapped one of the proposed cinema screens – and the studio theatre was made smaller.
Construction work is set to begin in February 2015 and take 19 months to complete, meaning the theatre should be open for autumn 2016.
The venue will include a main theatre with up to 800 seats, a smaller studio theatre with 150 seats, library, cafes, bars and a 120-seat cinema.
Gary Wintersgill, managing director of the Kier Construction northern division, said the firm aimed to use local labour, sub-contractors and suppliers as much as possible.
He said there would be at least 15 apprenticeships created and 38 weeks of training opportunities for schools and colleges with 250 people working on the site at any one time and 1,500 throughout the build.
“We’re delighted to be part of the team selected to deliver what will be an outstanding new cultural facility for Chester and the wider community,” he said.
Bennetts Associates was responsible for the design of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and the new Hampstead Theatre in London.
Simon Erridge, director of Bennets Associates, said: “This is the most significant new building project in Chester for decades.
“Chester’s brief is incredibly imaginative, demonstrating that it is possible for redundant buildings to be transformed and to regenerate the cultural and economic life of our city centres.”
Many of the original features of the art deco Odeon building have been retained and the project will restore the original scale and proportions of the interior.
The main theatre will be housed in a new building linked to the ‘Odeon’ by open foyer spaces and the cinema screen located on the former cinema balcony.
City arts producer Chester Performs will run the new theatre and director Andrew Bentley welcomed the news that contractors were now in place.
“The project’s gathering momentum now, and this team is perfectly placed to help us build a wonderful, game- changing cultural facility for the city,” he said.
“We’ve achieved so much in terms of quality and audiences without a building in the last few years. This building will be a worthy home for all that.
“We’ve much more to do to further excite audiences and engage the community but this is just the start. We’re delighted to be working alongside a tremendous team.”
Concerns have been expressed about the viability of the plans with some pointing out that project director Graham Lister was involved with the development of the Curve Theatre in Leicester – which ended up costing more than twice the original budget.
CWaC plans to invest £29.5m and hopes to secure between £2.5m and £4m from the Arts Council, between £1.5m and £2.5m through fundraising and £3.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.