Wednesday, June 28, 2017

News: Feasibility study into potential new Rotherham theatre

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The recently published masterplan has raised the issue of a new 500 seat theatre and arts centre in Rotherham town centre.

Currently, the Rotherham Civic Theatre accommodates a range of touring and local musical, comedy and theatrical performances. The building on Catherine Street is a converted church and was purchased by the Council prior to being converted into a theatre in 1960.

A review of the popular theatre was undertaken by the council in 2002 and in the following years, plans to replace the 380-seat Civic with a larger theatre combined with a new library and arts centre on Forge Island came forward as a proposed "Cultural Centre" in work on masterplans.

However, £540,000 was allocated in 2012 to carry out much-needed repairs and refurbishment of both the interior and exterior of the current theatre. The works were expected to bring the theatre up to a condition which would give a further ten years life.

Now, the latest masterplan from the Council, design company WYG Group and Lambert Smith Hampton, includes the potential development of an arts centre and theatre on the soon-to-be cleared site of the Law Courts. It could incorporate cafe / restaurant and creative / business space and a 500 seat theatre and studio theatre.

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Rotherham Council secured the site for £1 and are due to go out to tender soon for the demolition of the buildings that were vacated last year. The Council, which also owns the adjacent Forge Island, is set to take a scheme to market in September based on creating new leisure destination featuring a new cinema, bars, restaurants, and a quality hotel. Housing on the site, and surrounding sites, is also proposed along with a 300+ space multi-storey car park. Investment of over £50m is envisaged in these areas.

Regarding the Law Courts site, the masterplan states: "There is a window of opportunity to progress a Theatre and Arts Centre. This land is therefore excluded from the development partnering process at this moment to allow for a window of opportunity to investigate feasibility and funding. This responsibility falls with Rotherham Council.

"With favourable feasibility and funding, RMBC will deliver the scheme with external funding. Should feasibility and funding review conclude such a scheme is not possible, this land may return to the Council's development partner.

"The Council has a central role to play leading the Magistrates Court Theatre work and in coordinating and promoting positive change on the eastern riverbank.

"The next step is to commission a feasibility study and to produce a business plan for the theatre. This will need to confirm floor areas through a more detailed study. It will also need to identify demand for each component part, to include: Artistic content – main and studio theatre; Artistic content - flexible space; Managed workspace for creative businesses; Food and beverage offer.

"There may be specific content for children and young people within the Arts Centre. The challenge for RMBC is to secure necessary funding through Arts Council England. Whilst there may be some regeneration funding available from the Council for wider regeneration activity it would not be appropriate for the Arts Centre to be paid for wholly by the council but Rotherham will look to champion and bring in from Arts Council England."

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The masterplan has a strong focus on boosting the leisure uses in the town centre, which along with further housing, is expected to improve vitality, attract more visitors and keep people in the area. The plans discuss the importance of the night time economy.

WYG's project director Andrew Clarke, who originates from Rotherham, said: "A mature and grown-up approach is needed which can create a more appealing cultural offer.

"Clearly like in any town centre, people can come to Rotherham, enjoy themselves and have a few too many drinks. But the idea of Rotherham being a place where people go and get drunk (and then go and get a take-away) must and is changing. New uses will help, for example the cinema, hotel and theatre. There will be more to do and a wider cross section of people using the town."

People can view the plans and speak to consultants at the Masterplan exhibition which will take place in All Saints' Square (in the old Thornton's unit) today (June 28) from 11am until 7pm. There will also be a display of the concept drawings for people to view in the Riverside library gallery in the town centre up to the 6th July.

Images: RMBC / WYG / Google Maps


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