Letter: Futurist Theatre was a money pit for the council

My own personal view on the Futurist is based on 48 years of management experience in the tourism industry.
My own personal view on the Futurist is based on 48 years of management experience in the tourism industry.

My reasons for voting in full council to demolish the Futurist theatre and incur the consequential expenditure that it will result in, are based upon 48 years’ experience in the entertainment and tourist industry.

This experience includes as a professional theatre manager, concert hall manager, major event promoter, director of tourism and latterly an artist’s agent.

During my career I have supervised the kind of works required to refurbish theatres and bring them up to standard.

As the Save the Futurist campaigners wanted council to continue to reconsider their decision let’s just, for one moment, consider the facts.

The first decision taken by the council to market the site for development was taken 20 years ago by the then Labour administration.

Since that time Scarborough Borough Council has spent in excess of £2 million keeping the venue operational whilst continuing to debate the future of the building.

In the 60s and 70s when the seaside variety theatre was at the peak of its popularity, tourists travelled to resorts like Scarborough and by train and coach from the industrial conurbations of the west and as far north as Glasgow.

Industrial works holiday weeks were both Scarborough and Blackpool’s lifeblood.

The visitors in those days were effectively a captive audience who needed to be entertained. Their first morning in a resort was spent booking and collecting their theatre tickets for the week.

Now our tourists come by car, are more mobile, don’t stay in the resort all day but travel around to sightsee and, in the evening, have a television in their hotel rooms, so go out less.

In my youth, during summer vacations, I worked at both Scarborough and Whitby Councils. In the late 60s and early 70s there were four stacks of deck chairs on Scarborough South Bay beach, each stack contained around 2,000 chairs (circa 8,000 in total), which sold out on sunny days, now there is one stack of 500. Like the theatre, the demand is not there, due to the changes in tourist aspiration.

The requirement of the theatre to meet modern staging standards for large scale touring productions far outstrips the outdated facilities at the Futurist.

The cost of bringing the theatre up to the standard required to accommodate large touring productions, when coupled with the associated stage requirements, re-roofing etcetera; will far outstrip the cost of demolition.

The cost of demolition is not the main issue. The problem and the majority of the costs are associated with cliff stabilisation. This requirement may well also exist if the theatre and stage area were to be modified significantly, as it is the overall weight of the structure which is providing stability to the cliff behind.

Let’s not forget that the Futurist was built as a cinema, not a theatre, it was converted to take the Variety Theatre performances in the late 50s.

It has severe wing space limitations which cannot be rectified as the wings are backed by the main staircases. This makes it impossible for it to be adapted to take large scale touring productions

The borough council certainly does not have the ability within their revenue budgets to take on guaranteeing such a programme.

My own personal view, based on 48 years of management experience in the industry, is that this theatre would become an ongoing money pit if it did and without the guarantees the enterprise is a non-starter.

The latest business plan issued by the Save the Futurist was, I’m sorry to say, at best aspirational, the estimates pure guesswork, with nothing concrete to support the figures or the suggested programme. The document does not stand up to scrutiny.

The whole programme is predicated on attracting 203 performances of as they say “Mega Musicals”. The product is just not there for them.

In addition, 48 performances of panto are likely to compete with current Christmas offers at both Whitby and Scarborough venues currently funded by Scarborough Borough Council –

Scarborough Spa currently offers pantomime, the Stephen Joseph Theatre a Christmas show and Whitby Pavilion an excellent amateur pantomime production.

The income projections contained in the Save the Futurist group’s business plan are wildly optimistic, indeed using their own figures (pages 7, 8), their guestimate for expenditure is £1,400,000.

Utilising their own income figures, based upon an audience average of 50% capacity, which may just be achievable for a newly launched venue, the income is only £2,496,849.

You may say that there is a theoretical profit to pay artists of £1,096,849. So where is the remainder of the artist fee requirement to come from? Even at the suggested 80/20 split, there is a black hole of £900,000. There is no way that this can be covered from the guestimated ancillary sales of £750,000, which are over optimistic.

The ticket price for a major recording artist/band in the Futurist would far outstrip the price the Open Air Theatre could stage them for, making the building unattractive for this kind of artist. The council cannot afford to either run or continue to maintain the Futurist, if not demolished it will continue to be a constant drain on council resources for no return at all.

Much has been made of the £4 million that it will cost to demolish the theatre, much of this is for the cliff stabilisation works.

Of this figure approximately £600,000 is directly related to the demolition, the remainder to cliff stabilisation. Of this £2.5 million will come from the existing Capital Programme (ie the council’s own resources) and £1.5m from borrowing, the cost of which will be a lot cheaper than continuing to maintain and/or provide ongoing support to the building.

Once the Futurist site is developed, in conjunction with the rest of the land on offer, it will realise continual ongoing income to the authority and, as a consequence, the charge payers of the borough.

It will also provide a new attraction, not only for Scarborough, but the borough as a whole, which tourists staying in our other towns and villages will be able to access.

Many in Whitby have said the monies should be used for the piers, however the funding of the Whitby Piers is a quite separate matter.

Many blame Scarborough Borough Council because the piers are showing signs of dilapidation, saying the works should have been done sooner, but with what?

To secure government funding you have to demonstrate a robust case, thereafter you have to enter into a procurement exercise to appoint specialist contractors to carry out a full survey of the works required (the point we are now at). After which we enter the remedial stage.

The Save the Futurist campaign has been Scarborough centric and based upon what the campaigners thought was right for Scarborough Town. The argument has not taken account of the views of the 68,000 Community Charge payers who live outside the boundaries of the town of Scarborough.

Cllr David Chance

Whitby, Mayfield Ward