James & Megan look at community group Bradford One’s plans for the former Odeon cinema in the city centre, currently under consideration by Bradford Council.
The future of the former Odeon building in the city centre has long been a topic of discussion both inside and outside City Hall. Tragically, the plug was pulled on the building not long after the turn of the millennium. A range of plans for its future have been tossed around, with some even granted planning permission by the council, but none have gone ahead until now.
The council have been accepting expressions of interest for some time now, with three proposals submitted to the council. One of these was for a swimming pool and sports centre but this plan pulled out earlier in the year, leaving two: Bradford One and Bradford Live.
In the run-up to the crucial decision on the Odeon’s future, we spoke to the chair of the Bradford One proposal, Gideon Seymour, to understand more about their plans.
Bradford One is a community benefit society set up in January 2013, led by a board of Bradford business and creative professionals. It has over 440 independent members, ordinary members of the public who became interested in the plans and wanted to support them.
Bradford One plans to redevelop the 1930s picture house into an attractive venue with a capacity of 2,487 (all-seated) or 3,107 (part-standing) audience members for live music performances and stand-up comedy gigs suited to larger spaces than are currently available in the city. This will involve stripping out the cinemas, converted in the 1960s, and restoring the large 1930s auditorium to its former size. When it first opened in 1930, the auditorium was the third biggest in the country and the biggest outside of London.
The organisation’s plans include reinstating the ground floor restaurant and converting the former ballroom into a new restaurant to be open throughout the day and evening. The first floor atrium will serve as a large open space, offering views over the prestigious City Park. This will incorporate a unique café bar behind the full-height glazed façade, connecting the building’s interior with the city centre itself.
The second floor will include hospitality, conference and meeting facilities available to book. The building therefore has a wide range of uses, converting it into a city hub to be used by the people, rather than just open for events as it was in the picture house’s early days.
Bradford One also plan to seek planning permission for a new student accommodation development to the rear of the building, where the current car park is situated. This will be offered to private developers, with the receipts going towards the cost of refurbishing the former Odeon.
As you might have gathered, the redevelopment does not come cheap. It is estimated the cost of refurbishing the building itself will be in the region of £16m, with the student housing at the back set to take place at a similar time. The combined project is expected to provide a boost of 220 jobs and £33m to the Bradford economy.
It will definitely be worth it, Gideon tells us. “Nearly 1,300 people responded to our online survey and overwhelmingly backed the plans to create a new music venue for Bradford. More than 90% of participants said that Bradford needs a new mid-size venue and they would like to attend events here. The project is very ambitious and we are proud of that!”
Part of the council’s specification for the expressions of interest were that the bidders had to do a large market consultation and speak to as many local people as possible. They also had to create a business plan detailing where funding, management structures and customers would come from.
The customer identification stage is crucial in ensuring that the venue would work, as it would need to attract people from all over the district. Gideon is confident this would happen: “Our extensive market research suggests that people will come from within an hour’s drive to see our larger acts. This includes most of Greater Manchester, North and East Yorkshire, as well as all of West and South Yorkshire. And there is a genuine potential there for this to happen.”
Bradford One is also very popular online. The project already has the support of its over 440 members and now boasts a fantastic social media presence. This includes over 1,600 Facebook Likes and a Twitter following approaching 3,500. Gideon goes on, “The support we have had from the public has been huge and we just hope this continues.”
The council will work out whether both the bids are viable enough to continue in early July. If only one bid is viable then it may be granted permission to redevelop the Odeon. If both bids are viable then they will both continue on to the final stage in November, when the council make the ultimate decision on which applicant gets the building.
14 years after the building was locked up for the final time, its future could be with one of the two bids. This is the last chance to breathe life into the Odeon, otherwise the structurally vulnerable complex will have to be demolished. This will mean the end of a long legacy few other buildings within the city can lay claim to.
The Odeon closed down on Sunday 2nd July 2000 and has been empty ever since, with various companies and governments (both nationally and locally) owning the building. Bradford Council “bought” the building for £1 from the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency in late 2013 and only under the council has progress finally been made. The decision regarding which applicant will be granted permission to redevelop the building is expected in November.
The Local Leader is proud to support Bradford One’s proposal and will keep readers informed of any progress.