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Leaders of Exeter City Council have agreed to investigate doubling the size of the Corn Exchange, but it's going to be costly and the venue will close for a number of years.
If it goes ahead, capacity could increase from 500 to 1,000 seated and 1,350 standing.
Cllr Rachel Sutton, portfolio holder for culture, said that while the council would love to be able to fund a new theatre, they have to be realistic about the finances. Even stumping up for a redesign of the Corn Exchange is likely to cost £30 million. A brand new theatre in the Sidwell Street/Paris Street area would be double that.
She said: “Nothing would give me greater joy than a report saying we can have a new city centre venue, and anything is possible if the pockets are deep to fund it, but I can see no reasonable way to put together a finance package for the new build that Exeter certainly deserves."
Progressing the plans will initially cost £200,000, but if it goes to what is called RIBA Stage too, that will be another £296,000 for concept design.
Cllr Phil Bialyk, leader of the council, added: “We have to be realistic on the options, but we are not just going to put this on the shelf and will ask scrutiny to look at the funding sources. We will be proactive, which is what we do as a city, but it is very difficult.
“We need to celebrate what we do have in Exeter, like The Phoenix and The Barnfield, and lots of others venues where amateur productions are performed. More importantly, we are the third best local authority with the maximum spend on culture, around 53p per head, which is way above and double most local areas.
“We are not shelving it and it is a passion we want to deliver, and we will try our very best to bring about the entertainment venue for Exeter that the people want.”