Spa takeover unveiled

NEW operators were today announced for Felixstowe's seafront theatre - though community leaders failed to make the savings they had hoped on the contract.

NEW operators were today announced for Felixstowe's seafront theatre - though community leaders failed to make the savings they had hoped on the contract.

Suffolk Coastal announced that Openwide International will take over the Spa Pavilion from June to run the 913-seater theatre for the next decade.

The council will pay £200,000 a year to the company to run the venue on its behalf.

Councillors had been hoping to halve the subsidy but both companies which submitted proposals to run the Spa would not budge over the contract fee, though both offered potential for the council to receive a share of profits from shows.

Current operators Clear Channel did not bid for the new ten-year contract.

Rae Leighton, cabinet member responsible for theatre and the arts, said it had been an exhaustive and lengthy process to agree the contract and Openwide International would be a “worthy replacement” for Clear Channel.

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“Openwide International met our tough selection criteria with its background of proven experience and financial clout, and a programme to develop the Spa as both a performance venue and a place to meet and eat,” he said.

“The Spa is a significant regional arts venue that contributes to the attractiveness of Suffolk Coastal, and in particular Felixstowe, as a visitor destination and with Openwide International on board I expect it to go from strength to strength, building on the success of the last ten years, and putting our theatre firmly in the spotlight.”

Openwide International has run the Pavilion Pier in Cromer since 2001 where it has developed a series of successful summer shows, plus boosted the catering opportunities as an added attraction to the theatre.

The company wants to offer greater community involvement in the theatre, and plans to offer drama/plays, youth drama, children's shows, classical/orchestral music, dance, comedy and light entertainment, plus a summer season aimed at attracting residents and tourists, plus an ongoing commitment to amateur performances.

In addition it also wants to offer specialist weekends, perhaps with a folk or blues music theme.

Mr Leighton said: “A ten-year partnership gives the new managers the necessary stability to plan and develop their programmes. We will be backing them with an annual subsidy of around £200,000 so that they can provide entertaining and wide-ranging shows that will attract all parts of our community. We think that is a worthwhile investment as the Spa plays such an important role in our district.”

What do you think of the Spa Pavilion decision? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

Factfile:

Suffolk Coastal will pay Openwide International £200,000 a year to run the theatre - this takes away the risk from taxpayers of staffing the venue, bringing in shows and the possibility of losses from them.

The new contract includes a profit sharing agreement which, if the shows do well, will help offset the subsidy.

A number of major entertainment companies are now running theatres for councils, providing professional expertise and saving the authorities money.

Four companies and a group of residents were interested in running the Spa. The council considered two proposals.

Sixty days a year will be set aside for amateur companies to use it and they have been assured fees will only rise by the rate of inflation.

Over the past couple of years the Spa has been used for shows only around 40 per cent of the year, though ticket sales rose from 38,000 in 1995 to more than 55,000 last year.

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