Future of theatre under microscope

FELIXSTOWE: Multi-million pound proposals for a new Felixstowe theatre will be among options considered for the future of live entertainment in the town.

Consultants will be paid �40,000 to look at the future of the Spa Pavilion and then put together a business plan for the option chosen by councillors.

At this stage, all possibilities are being considered – ranging from an extensive re-modelling of the current seafront venue to improve it and provide facilities fit for the 21st century, to a possible new purpose-built theatre on land such as the Orwell High campus or where the old Herman de Stern stood on the south seafront.

The need to make changes to the Spa – which in the past few years has had new toilets, new seats, refurbished lounge and foyer, and new technical equipment – were identified three years ago in a report on the future of the town.

Now Suffolk Coastal council is planning to take the project forward as part of the regeneration of the resort.

Over the past three years the theatre, which hosts 130 shows a year, has seen a 25 per cent reduction in audience numbers – down from 47,644 in 2007/08 to 35,662 in 2009/10.

There has been suggestions before that the Spa’s main auditorium should be reduced from 905 seats to around 500, so it suits big shows but also provides a comfortable venue for smaller productions such as drama, with re-modelling and extending of the building to create dance studios and workshops, and space for other cultural events.

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Suffolk Coastal cabinet member Mary Neale said: “The Spa needs to be considered both in terms of its role within the resort as a potential visitor attraction and its role as a community facility.

“Taking account of the previous studies and the current position, the proposal is to appoint a consultant to carry out an options appraisal into the suitability of the Spa to deliver the needs of local groups and the district council in a cost-effective way.”

The consultants’ report will look at “diverse, realistic, affordable options for the future of the theatre and arts provision” in the town.

Options may include re-modelling the Spa; public/private partnership development of the site; provision of theatre facilities on an alternative site; closure and absorption or reallocation of resources; consideration of alternative arts provision; and partnership management with the Marina Theatre, in Lowestoft.

The Spa is currently operated by Openwide Coastal Ltd until 2016, and paid an annual fee by of �241,353 by Suffolk Coastal.

? What should happen to the Spa Pavilion? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN, or you can e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk