Bristol's Colston Hall needs £44m makeover - arts champion Simon Cook
BRISTOL'S much-loved Colston Hall is in urgent need of complete refurbishment – at a cost of £44 million.
The current auditorium, which opened in 1951, is fast reaching its sell-by date and needs work costing at least £10 million just to keep it open, it has been claimed.
But the city's arts champion Simon Cook wants to go a step further and is urging the Government to help pay for a complete makeover of the building, which would cost £44 million.
Mr Cook, the cabinet councillor in charge of arts and culture in the city, said: "The Colston Hall is a classic case of council neglect over a number of years – it just hasn't received the investment it deserves.
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"Other cities have made sure their long-term investment in the arts continued because they understand you must create a quality of life and image for your city."
Three years ago, the concert hall's new £20 million foyer was opened, to create a dramatic new entrance to the building. But the phased work on the 2,000-seat auditorium, backstage areas and basements was halted because of public spending cuts.
Now it has emerged that a £10 million programme of work is needed, which would only cover basic structural repairs in order to keep the hall open and running as it is at the moment.
The money would pay for roof repairs, new boilers and heating system, re-wiring, re-decorating and creating more balconies, instead of just two, to help improve the auditorium's acoustics.
But Mr Cook believes that a complete £44 million refurbishment would be a long-term investment for the city because it would help put Bristol on the international stage.
He said: "We've got a situation at the moment where touring theatre companies have not been able to go ahead with their productions at the Colston Hall, simply because the backstage entrance wasn't big enough to get the sets in.
"When there are rock concerts where people want to stand at the front, the only way to remove the seats is to send in a team of men with screwdrivers, which is just not good enough in this day and age."
A complete overhaul of the building would include collapsible seats which could be electronically retracted into one of two basements below the auditorium.
The stage and backstage areas would also be completely remodelled. Currently, there is not enough room on the stage for a symphony orchestra and there is no stage lift for moving props.
One of the basements could be turned into a venue for jazz gigs, as well as studios for music workshops.
The area where the entrance used to be would also be reworked to create a useable space.
Mr Cook said: "I cannot emphasise strongly enough that we should be going back to the Government and urging them to give us some funding. There is no point in having a wonderful new foyer if the rest of the building is starting to fall down."
He said that when the economy comes out of recession Bristol had to make sure it could compete with other cities culturally – and the only way to do that was by investing now.
If the Government was to provide some funding, then the council could approach the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund for some more of the cash. There might be some sponsorship money from the private sector as well as some money from the council itself.
Bristol mayor George Ferguson is supporting a refurbishment of the Colston Hall and sees the project as complementary to a new arena for the city.
He believes both projects go hand in hand to help put Bristol on the international map.