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Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Arts Centre building to be razed as part of theatre complex plans

The existing Sean Hollywood Arts Centre building in Newry is to be razed to the ground as part of plans to construct a new Theatre/Conference complex in the city.

At last Monday’s monthly Strategy Policy and Resources committee meeting, Councillors  approved a recommendation to demolish the existing Arts Centre building and replace it with a complete new-build.  

A final decision on the move will be ratified at next month’s full Council meeting.

The proposed theatre and conference complex will combine the sites of both the Arts Centre and the Town Hall.

The decision to demolish the building was one of two options presented to the meeting. Option one was part demolition of the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre with new build and bridge structure to Town Hall. Option two was full demolition of Sean Hollywood Arts Centre with new build and link structure to Town Hall.

The report recommended Option Two be adopted as the basis for progressing design as it claimed the option would lessen historic environment division concerns with Town Hall setting, increase efficiency of design, increase efficiency of set and equipment deliveries, encourage pedestrian movement at ground level and maximise occupancy of the new build theatre. This option would also result in a significant increase in seating in a new auditorium which potentially could seat around 250 people

Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Michael Savage, Chair of the Strategy Policy and Resources Committee said the aim was “to construct in a most economical way to the ratepayers and from a design perspective to come up with a 21st century theatre and conference centre that serves the need of the arts sector, the music sector, crafts etc.

He said: “The vibrant arts sector we have, we needed to take a bold step and this plan that we are looking at wraps a new state of the art 21st century facility around the Town Hall and it puts a modern building up against the old historic building, which has become a thread that has developed through architecture across all the major cities.

“It’s about using our waterways and the vibrancy of the canal. We will have an outdoor performance area that backs on to the canal. The rear of the Ross Thompson site is south facing so it lends itself to outdoor activity.”

In reference to Sean Hollywood, after whom the Arts Centre is named, Councillor Savage continued: “Sean Hollywood was a dear, dear friend of many of my party colleagues and was somebody that we have huge respect for. We believe that the current arts centre has passed its sell-by date, it doesn’t meet the need of our vibrant arts sector and it’s time to develop a 21st century facility that is fitting to the real legacy that Sean Hollywood and other key players within our arts sector over the years have left in a very rich way within our city.

“There will be an attachment to what the old building looks like but the belief is from an access perspective, from a construction perspective this was advocated as the best way to go about this. We now get down to the details of the design and meeting the needs and reaching out and consulting with the arts sector making sure what we build and develop there will be a real jewel in the crown for the city.

“As we approach the 20th Anniversary of Newry being awarded city status, we now are finally starting to fulfil that ambition and that vision that we had 20 years ago and over the next number of years Newry will be transformed potentially beyond recognition and the council will take the lead in doing that and regenerating the city and providing facilities that will be there for generations to come.”