A leading theatre company plans to take over the Borough Hall in west Greenwich and install a rooftop bar, according to a report to be discussed by a Greenwich Council scrutiny committee next week.
853 understands from multiple sources that the council is close to striking a deal with Selladoor, which runs regional theatres across the UK, to dispose of the Borough Hall on a “substantial lease” which would see it expand the main hall in the Grade II-listed building, which is in a poor condition, to 640 seats after “investing substantial sums”.
While Selladoor, which is based in Deptford, is clumsily only referred to as “‘the company’” in the report, enough details are given in the report to confirm the company’s identity with a cursory internet search. Both Labour councillors and figures in the theatre industry have known about the company’s interest for some months with details only now being made public in this report.
The report promotes the Borough Hall, which sits behind Serica Court, a sheltered accommodation block, as an ideal space to boost Greenwich town centre’s late night economy, “to provide an alternative to the saturated and expensive West End market place”.
“The council has a number of identified sites for hotel development which would boost our night time economy but the number of operators interested in developing our sites is disappointingly low,” it says.
“There is an opportunity to encourage longer dwell-time, increase spend and levels of overnight stays within the town centre by increasing the mix of cultural offerings. The ‘company’s’ proposal to provide theatrical entertainment plus a restaurant and bar would meet this unmet need.”
A public consultation into the disposal to Selladoor is planned, the report says.
While the report depicts the building as being part of Greenwich town centre, the immediate area is largely residential. Greenwich Council recently confirmed plans to evict the nearby Royal Hill Community Garden to build a care home on the site, while plans have been submitted for flats on the site of the former Greenwich police station opposite, which would sit next to existing council flats.
Founded a decade ago as a small company producing one-off shows, Selladoor is a now a major player in the regional theatre industry, producing UK tours of Flashdance and Spamalot, and has recently expanded into the US and Asia. The company is described in the report as “having Greenwich roots” – it is based in the Deptford Mission building on the western end of Creek Road, on the borough border with Lewisham.
For the first time, the report publicly admits that Greenwich Council had planned to move Greenwich Theatre into the Borough Hall – something first revealed by 853 in November 2013, in the final months of former leader Chris Roberts’s administration. Greenwich Theatre – whose building in Crooms Hill is owned by the council – objected, and the idea quietly died after Roberts’s resignation in May 2014.
Councillors have raised fears that the presence of Selladoor on Greenwich Theatre’s doorstep could threaten the much-loved venue, which marks its 50th anniversary in October and whose annual pantomime regularly plays to packed houses.
The report says: “The market segment to be targeted by the ‘the company’ is markedly different from Greenwich Theatre. A detailed analysis has been supplied and concludes that the borough has an under capacity for this type of entertainment compared to other areas.
“Whilst ‘the company’ has an established global network of commercial musical productions which also make use of the larger UK regional theatres, Greenwich Theatre is an established community theatre focused on developing new and emerging theatre companies.
“The content promoted by each organisation is thus very different and appeals to different audiences. ‘The company’ will not for instance be producing pantomime productions.
“‘The company’s’ proposal is intended to provide an alternative to the saturated and expensive West End market place whilst at the same time providing opportunities for jobs, community engagement and offer restaurant, bar and café facilities to serve the day and night time economies.”
Council officers say Selladoor’s design will be sympathetic to the facade and architecture of the building, while the company’s expression of interest “guarantees community access, local jobs and a significant indirect impact on the local economy as well as access for patrons of the theatre, restaurant and bar without using public funds”.
Opened as part of the former Greenwich Town Hall in 1939, the striking Borough Hall was part of the headquarters of the former Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich until it was forced into a merger with Woolwich in 1965 when London government was reorganised.
The building was still used by Greenwich Council for many years after, but the old town hall – including its clock tower – was sold in the 1970s and is now used by the Greenwich School of Management.
The Borough Hall was retained by the council and was most recently used by Greenwich Dance. It moved out of the building last year after it lost funding from Arts Council England, saying the building was “increasingly not fit for our purposes”. It is now based at Charlton House. The hall was briefly squatted after the organisation left, costing the council £13,000, it was revealed this week.
The Selladoor proposal will be discussed at the regeneration and culture scrutiny committee on Thursday 20 June.
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