Town centre cinema plan for resort’s Opera House

Coun Graham Cain celebrates the installation of a new screen at the Opera House.
Coun Graham Cain celebrates the installation of a new screen at the Opera House.
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Blackpool’s famous Opera House could be transformed into a town centre cinema capable of screening global film premieres, if ambitious plans get the go-ahead.

Resort bosses are bidding to create one of the country’s best film-viewing experience by installing new state-of-the-art equipment at the theatrewithin the Winter Gardens.

Bold plans are due to be submitted to the council for the £150,000 investment which would see a 12 by seven metre screen installed, along with surround sound technology and a digital projector capable of showing 3D films.

And it is hoped the scheme can get the all-clear in time to run initial showings during the Illuminations.

Michael Williams, operations director at Crown Entertainment, which runs the Winter Gardens, said: “The facility will be unique in the UK and we believe it will bring a new audience to the Opera House. So it is great news for the town. The core use of the Opera House will always be as a theatre but it is all about diversifying.

“If it all goes smoothly through the planning process, we could have the first film showings during the Illuminations.

“The idea is to have some free showings at first for Blackpool residents.”

If the plan gets the go-ahead it would be the resort’s first town centre cinema for 15 years.

Initially the cinema experience would be confined to the stalls and circle area of the Opera House, providing a capacity of 2,200 seats.

But if the move is a success, it could be extended to the balcony incorporating the full 3,000 capacity of the venue.

Future plans also include installing a satellite dish so live events from anywhere in the world can be shown.

Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for culture and tourism on Blackpool Council, said: “We want to have the facility to bring in live performances from throughout the world and this screen would present that opportunity.

“We could have opera beamed in live from the Sydney Opera House – what a niche that would be, what a coup.

“Many community groups we’ve spoken to say it would be great to have something like this in the town centre.

“It’s going to be quite unique, I haven’t heard of any facility quite like it in the country. In the future it is even possible we could hold UK film premieres or world premieres.

“We can turn round to these people and say at the Winter Gardens we have this fabulous facility, everything is under one roof and there is capacity for close to 3,000 people.

“This year we have Mamma Mia! and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It allows us to continue to attract these world class shows to Blackpool.

“We will do everything to encourage people to continue to stay here and visit us.”

The cost of putting the equipment in will be met from the Winter Gardens’ own revenues.

The Opera House already has a pedigree of showing films. When it opened in 1939, it was fitted with a large film projection room with the latest equipment of the day in order to fulfil one of its roles as a cinema.

Alan Cavill, assistant chief executive for regeneration, tourism and culture on Blackpool Council, said the investment would help draw more residents to the town centre.

He said: “We have to give people other reasons to visit the town centre and we believe this would be something very family-orientated which would help make the town centre more vibrant.

“It will not be competing with the Odeon cinema we already have in Blackpool because we won’t be attracting the latest releases.

“It will be more like anything from the screening of a live opera to maybe a Star Wars film festival.

“There will also be a nostalgia experience to it. A lot of children growing up today have never had the very large cinema experience.”

Blackpool’s last town centre cinema, the Odeon on Dickson Road, closed in December 1998 after 60 years of showing films, to make way for the 10-screen Odeon multiplex on land off Rigby Road.

The old art deco Odeon, now the Funny Girls cabaret venue, boasted a capacity of 3,088 although it was converted into a triple screen cinema in 1975.

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