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Resort's theatre faces final curtain

PUBLISHED: 16:17 09 July 2001 | UPDATED: 10:18 03 March 2010

THE closure of Felixstowe's smallest theatre and its possible demolition have been defended by council chiefs, who say it may be too costly to save.

THE closure of Felixstowe's smallest

theatre and its possible

demolition have been defended by council chiefs, who say it may be too costly to save.

It would cost around £40,000 to remove dangerous asbestos, and at least £500,000 to convert the theatre for community or arts uses.

No final decisions have yet been taken about the much-loved Herman de Stern building – and there is certainly no order imminent for the bulldozers to move in.

But residents have very real fears that the end may be nigh for the property, a part of the seafront scene for a century.

They have called for it to be used again as a theatre or small conference venue, arts complex or community centre for the West End area of the town.

Suffolk Coastal council has asked consultants to look at the Herman de Stern along with the whole of the 17-acre south seafront to consider how it could be redeveloped with housing and a tourist attraction as part of the regeneration of the resort.

The former convalescent home, which stands at the

junction of Orford and Sea Roads, was bought by the

council from the Secretary of State for Social Services in 1979.

Over the years it has housed a theatre, gym, flats, community hall, dance school and social club.

In a statement about its future, council chairwoman Doreen Savage and David Smith, chairman of the south seafront sub committee, said the council's use for the building became uneconomic several years ago.

The council is trying to

develop the south seafront – and it is crucial that the project is self-financing, which will mean some of the area being sold for homes to fund public facilities.

"While it would be ideal to include the Herman de Stern in this development as a multi-purpose building the fact must be faced that, because of its construction and internal layout, the building is not easily converted to other uses," they said.

"Such use that has been made of it in the years of its ownership by the district council has entailed a great deal of compromise. It is estimated that adequate conversion of the building to any of the positive uses mentioned would cost, at minimum, £500,000.

"Add to this the fact that the building is riddled with asbestos – clearance of this alone is estimated at £40,000.

"The council's approach to the Herman de Stern has been entirely consistent. It starts from the point that the building is not required by Suffolk Coastal District Council and that it would not be right for the council to expend tax payers money on an expensive maintenance or refurbishment programme."

The council has had amicable meetings with the Stage Door Theatre Company, which had on the expiry of its lease been offered further short-term use of the building but had declined, saying that for its own "operational reasons" it had no further wish to occupy the building.

"The district council did not evict Stage Door, they ceased operation of the West End Theatre of their own volition. The council's relationship with the theatre company was always friendly, expedient and mutually beneficial and supportive," said Mr Smith and Mrs Savage.

They added the council supported the arts in a number of ways, including grants, consultancy advice to those seeking lottery funding, ownership of the Spa Pavilion, promotion of events, and is soon to appoint an arts development officer.

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