The Empire Theatre (FP)

Cabinet has given the green light to a consortium of investors spearheaded by Mark Maloney of Preconco Limited to restore the Empire Theatre.

This disclosure came today from Minister of Sports, Stephen Lashley, during a press conference at his Ministry’s headquarters at Mall Internationale, Haggatt Hall, St. Michael. He said the theatre would be placed at the disposal of the Government and it would be managed and controlled by the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth.

Mr. Lashley further revealed that the restoration was expected to cost the investors an estimated Bds $10million. He explained there would be a refurbished theatre with a seating capacity for 290 persons, along which a craft brewery producing Barbadian beer, which would also include a visitor centre and a small museum.

The Minister explained that operations of the theatre and craft brewery would be separate entities and that activities of the brewery would include heritage tours.

According to him, it would be extremely difficult for the Empire Theatre to be sustainable if it operated solely as that. "The proposed visitor centre and craft brewery would, therefore, function jointly, to subsidise the theatre and to assist with its marketing. This centre would also cater to local and international visitors, especially cruise ship passengers, who could purchase memorabilia in the form of art and craft, view the processing of the beer and sample it," he surmised.

He said he had been informed that the proposal was approved by the Town and Country Development Planning Office and a 25-year lease would be provided to the company so it could start the restoration. He added that the investors had given the assurance that they had the finances to immediately commence the work.

The Minister stated that three proposals had been received for the restoration and he was "satisfied" that this was the best. "It achieves, to my mind, all of the objectives which we would have set… One of the prime objectives that I would have in relation to any restoration of any of our historic sites for the purpose of cultural activity would be to ensure that Barbadians can use that facility at the least cost possible," he declared.

He pointed out that there were "intense reviews" of the proposals to ensure they met the necessary obligations

"Of particular importance to us would have been that any restoration efforts meet the new requirements within the context of the world heritage [site] and all of these proposals were subjected to the scrutiny of the local World Heritage Committee, in addition to the officers of the Ministry [of Culture]," Mr. Lashley said.

He noted that criteria had been developed to guide the restoration process. He said the officials insisted that, once restored, the Empire Theatre would: remain in Barbadian ownership, be utilised for cultural activities, respect the integrity of the historic structure and have the approval of the Barbados World Heritage Committee, present evidence to confirm that the facility would be self-sustaining, and be accessible to all Barbadians.

The Empire Theatre, which was constructed in 1922 by the Colonial Film Exchange Company, has not been used since October 1984.

Mr. Lashley pointed out that since 1997 there was an elaborate plan to transform the Empire Theatre into an artistic centre to cater to all kinds of dramatic presentations. He added that in 2000 the then Government engaged the services of a Cuban Consultant and Conservation Architect to advise it on the restoration of the Empire, and a conservative estimate of between US$10 and 15 million was given for refurbishment. He further explained that in 2002 another proposal to restore the Empire was given and its estimated cost was between US$15 and 20 million.


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