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Sad, unused, unloved - inside Leicester's old Haymarket Theatre

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Leicester's Haymarket Theatre which once hosted acting greats now stands empty, and nobody seems to want it.

Its stage was once graced by acting greats such as Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Peter O'Toole, but it now stands empty and unloved. The Haymarket Theatre, on a prime piece of land in the city centre, closed in 2007 to be replaced by Curve, yet remains a drain on council resources.

Yesterday, a group of city councillors took a tour of the former theatre to find out why the council has been unable to find someone to take over the building.

The tour, on which the Leicester Mercury was also invited, took the council members around the large foyer, the dark auditorium and the dusty backstage areas, which stretch like a labyrinth into the depths of the Belgrave Gate theatre.

The building, which opened in 1973, has rooms piled high with seating, crumbling plaster walls and long corridors of painted concrete.

The council has more than 60 years left on its lease, which means a £150,000-a-year cost to taxpayers for rates, maintenance and a service charge.

The council first put the building on the market for £500,000, but mayor Sir Peter Soulsby is now willing to negotiate a sum with potential buyers.

Yesterday's tour was for the benefit of members of the council's Economic Development, Culture and Tourism Scrutiny Commission, who advise Sir Peter.

Commission chairman Sue Waddington said: "We don't want the council to continue to pay for an empty building and, as we haven't been in here since the theatre closed, we thought we should take a look.

"We need to think of new ways to market the building and find a new owner to bring it back to use.

"It could be a good wedding venue or be put to a religious or educational use. It's a great opportunity. It's an enormous building."

Brendan McGarry, of the city council's property department, told the councillors he had showed many interested parties around the theatre, including religious groups, casino operators and people from London's theatre industry.

However, no one had so far expressed much of an interest in taking on the lease, or even sub-letting it short-term from the council.

Under the terms of the council's lease, the uses for the building are restricted and the limited capacity of the Haymarket car park may also be an issue for prospective tenants.

Councillor Culdipp Bhatti, the commission's deputy chairman, said: "One thing I think there is a demand for is a new ice-skating rink, but that's not possible under the lease."

Commission members were also there to consider whether the council might benefit from some investment to bring the interior up to date.

The theatre is full of reminders of the past, such as a swirly 1980s carpet and tatty posters of Wham! and Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the backstage area.

Councillors hoped the building could again be put to a use that enhances the city centre.

Councillor Ted Cassidy said: "With the removal of Belgrave Flyover, this is going to be a prime site in an important part of Leicester.

"I think there's tremendous potential as this is a focal point of the city centre, but it needs someone with vision and capital to invest. It might get easier if the economy improves."

Sad, unused, unloved - inside Leicester's old Haymarket Theatre


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