Bid for new city centre theatre
A NEW campaign has been launched to establish a theatre and concert hall in the centre of Exeter.
It comes as a one-day exhibition has marked the 50th anniversary of the closure of Exeter's much-loved Theatre Royal.
Theatre historian and author Dick Passmore (inset), who staged the event at Exeter's Guildhall, said the exhibition had been a big success.
"Around 750 people attended, and just after we opened they were queuing to come in," he said.
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"It proved there is still a tremendous interest in the former theatre. More than 300 people have signed a petition to say they would like to see a central theatre and concert hall in the city.
"Several people expressed the need to form a steering group to lobby for a new theatre, so we may need to consider that.
"We are still adding up the signatures and will be creating a website.
"The aim will be to present the city council with the petition to show the support and strength of feeling for such a theatre in the centre of the city.
"The petition asked: Do you want a theatre back in the centre of Exeter?
"Some people say Exeter could not support a city centre theatre but Plymouth and Torquay seem to manage, so why not Exeter?
"Most theatres in the country are backed by a sponsor, so that is what we would look for.
"I think we must be talking about £30m to £40m, with something like 50 per cent from the Heritage Lottery Fund and 50 per cent sponsorship. It would have to be in the city centre so tourists could see where it was and use it."
Mr Passmore added that Echo reports of Portland House, which stands on the site of the old Theatre Royal at the junction of Longbrook Street and New North Road, becoming student accommodation added impetus to the campaign for a new theatre in the city centre.
The theatre was open for more than 70 years. But in the 1950s profits started to fall with a loss of £6,500 in 1960. It closed less than two years later.
Local benefactor George Northcott offered a total of £100,000 to buy the building and create a cultural centre alongside a refurbished theatre. His various offers were declined and the building was eventually sold to The Prudential Assurance Company for £85,000, giving a return to shareholders.
Northcott later invested his money into a building on the university campus.
A city council spokesman said: "A new theatre is simply un-affordable, very likely to be unviable once built and could put other theatres at risk. It is important to support the venues we have in order that they are able to continue to survive and provide the wide range of performances and entertainment that they do."