Sell Haymarket Theatre for £1 to save £150,000 pa cost to taxpayer, says Leicester councillor
A disused theatre should be sold for just £1 so it no longer leaves taxpayers with a yearly bill of £150,000, a councillor has suggested.
The Haymarket Theatre closed in 2007 and efforts by Leicester City Council to find a buyer have so far failed.
The council, which is about a third of the way through a 99-year lease on the former 753-seat venue, is looking to dispose of it for £500,000.
But Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Porter said the asking price was putting off potential purchasers.
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He urged mayor Sir Peter Soulsby to give the building away for a nominal sum so it is no longer a financial burden.
Under the terms of the lease, the council has to pay £120,000 as a service charge to the landlord – the next-door shopping centre – as well as £20,000 in rates and about £10,000 in maintenance.
Coun Porter has raised the issue at the council and it will now be investigated by one of the authority's scrutiny committees.
He said the theatre, which closed to be replaced by Curve, was an unacceptable drain on the council's resources when finances were tight.
He said: "Attempts to sell the Haymarket have been unsuccessful and each year it remains unsold it will be a huge cost.
"The asking price is obviously deterring potential buyers.
"The mayor should look at selling it for a £1 just to get it off the books. In the short term it is a loss, but if the lease continues to run its course it could cost the council millions.
"It wouldn't be the first time a council has done this and I think it makes good sense financially."
Sir Peter has previously said he would be willing to listen to reasonable offers for the property, which is being marketed as a potential museum, art gallery, cinema, meeting hall, sports venue or theatre.
He agreed there was a need to dispose of the building but said giving it away was not the answer.
The mayor also said he had been contacted by two religious organisations and a leisure firm interested in taking on the building.
"I would not say we are close to exchanging contracts but they are interested and the council is continuing to work with them," Sir Peter said. "What Nigel does not seem to have got his head around is the purchase price is not the issue. The asking price is reasonable.
"It is the large expense of refitting the building that is the challenge .
"It is a shell – all the seats have been stripped out."
However, Coun Porter said a peppercorn price would allow any interested parties to spend any money they had on a refit.
"The council would of course need to see a proper business plan but it just gives a potential buyer more of a chance to do something with a prominent city centre building that could and should be in use," he said.
Former Haymarket theatre-goer Diane Jones, 51, of Knighton, Leicester, said: "If the council has a realistic sale on the horizon then obviously it shouldn't give the place away.
"If not, it should be considered."
Angelos Minter, 19, of Highfields, Leicester, said: "It's stupid so much of our money is being spent on it. Whatever it takes, get shot of it."