The huge catalogue of building failures at the former Southport Theatre and Convention Centre has been revealed.
Its condition was so bad that there was no hope of repairing or restoring the landmark venue, as it now faces demolition to make way for the new £75million Marine Lake Events Centre (MLEC).
It was in such a poor state that the ceiling needed replacing completely – in its last year of operation, netting was fitted to stop debris falling onto visitors in the seats below.
The dressing rooms were hit by leaks; seating needed full replacement; the sightlines were poor; technical inadequacies made it difficult to host touring shows; it suffered poor acoustics; and the fire curtain didn’t work.
“The Southport Theatre and Convention Centre has played an important role in the development of Southport’s visitor economy and infrastructure over the years and forms a key part of its cultural landscape,” said AFL Architects, in the planning application for the new MLEC.
“However, the building is no longer considered fit for purpose as a modern and sustainable events centre of the future.”
The new Marine Lake Events Centre, plus the Water and Light Show, are being developed by Sefton Council as the central scheme using Town Deal funding from the Government.
The new facility is forecast to attract 515,000 additional visitors every year, creating 288 new jobs and creating nearly 60,000 overnight stays from conferences and events.
Southport Theatre was officially opened by Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich in May 1973, while the Floral Hall inside the building was opened in 1932.
Sadly a substantial number of defects were discovered through a Condition Survey by Cunliffe’s in 2018 and the IPW Feasibility Study in 2020. Further evidence and incidence of disrepair has been identified since the building was closed in March 2020 and further technical surveys, such as asbestos, were carried out as part of this project.
Three areas were identified: building condition, technical shortcomings and operational difficulties.
AFL Architects said: “The theatre ceiling was recommended for full replacement due to poor condition meaning a license could not be obtained. Subsequently netting was installed to catch falling debris during the final year of operation.
“The theatre dressing rooms have been affected by a series of leaks due to noticeable movement in a number of roof areas, and is anticipated that a number of roofs in the facility would need to be replaced.
“The theatre seating was severely worn and threadbare in place, with the slab fixings being insecure. Cunliffe’s recommended a full replacement of this seating.
“Windows throughout the building were recommended for replacement for use and security purposes.
“The buildings’ plant and services were near / at the end of their serviceable life prior to closure – specific concerns related to the inability to repair and find parts for such old equipment and high likelihood of failure in the next 2-3 years.”
“The venue is not up to modern standards expected by audiences or performers. In the theatre, the sightlines are increasingly bad from above the cross aisle, linked to the shallow rake of the venue, meaning views from rear seats are completely blocked. The viewing distance from the furthest seats is 10m further than would be ideal, at 40m. There is limited stage depth at 8m, which should be 12m.
“The theatre has limited flying capability, and no lighting bridge, which makes it difficult to set up for touring shows, which also results in the facility being generally less flexible to accommodate different types of performances/ staging. The theatre has limited acoustical variability which impacts on the shows it can attract.
“Furthermore the fire curtain is not functioning.”
“The incremental development of the STCC (in phases since the 1930s) means the overall layout is not efficient for event organisers or the customer journey, given the location of meeting rooms in relation to the theatre / auditorium.
“Discrepancies in heights of different rooms, affects the flow of visitors and management of the facility, as well as the selling of spaces.
“Also the significant differences in appearance, age and condition of facilities throughout the building, the waterfront suite, the Floral Hall and the Theatre, also affect the marketing of the facility.”
Although it was heavily investigated during feasibility stages, the partial refurbishment / full refurbishment of the Southport Theatre and Convention Centre was not progressed as a development option for the following reasons:
- Refurbishment of the theatre would not be sufficient to address its significant spacial and technical shortcomings (eg sightlines) – therefore, no improvement in entertainment programme / audiences
- Lack of improvement to theatre would also impact future attractiveness of main auditorium for business events (harder to grow this market)
- Limited opportunities to improve operating performance
- No real impact on Waterfront animation / regeneration
- Building doesn’t respond to / take advantage of its surroundings (ie Marine Lake)
- Limited scope to be a ‘transformational’ project
- Limited potential interest from third party operators whereas the full redevelopment of a new events centre would bring the following:
- New theatre capable of accommodating / attracting a wide range of entertainment, cultural and theatre events
- New theatre improved audience experience and appeal
- New conference facilities (maximising waterfront location) capable of retaining existing and attracting new business events and delegates
- Increased delegate / visitor numbers relate to increased local & regional economic impact
- Improve the profile of Southport regionally and nationally
- Likelihood of an improved operating position, and therefore operational sustainability
- Greater potential to be a ‘transformational project’
- Improved potential for third party operator interest.