FORMER Bognor Regis town mayor Jan Cosgrove has labelled plans to extend the Regis Centre as penny-pinching.
Mr Cosgrove helped to save the trust which ran the centre and its Alexandra Theatre from liquidation and closure under a previous regime.
The theatre’s future looks the brightest it has been for decades with funding from any redevelopment by St Modwen paying for £6.5m of improvements.
These will include increasing the number of seats from 360 to 430, new backstage facilities, a new foyer and an arcade of small shops to provide up to £50,000 a year in rent to help the centre’s running costs.
But a small multiplex cinema as part of the scheme, alongside bars and cafes, has proved controversial because of its potential impact on the Picturedrome.
Mr Cosgrove said: “My own feeling is that it is short-sighted and penny-pinching to add only another 100 seats.
“A 750-seater theatre has the promise of adding a real centrepiece attraction to the town, where big events can be staged.
“The additional funding could be sought from foundations. We do not need or want the multiplex. Let the new theatre be the lynchpin.
“A new board of trustees could include members nominated from the University of Chichester, whose outlook to invest in our town is just the example needed.”
Mr Cosgrove led the efforts with Adam Cunard and the late Stephen Emck in 2005/06 which removed the theatre trust from liquidation and saved it from demolition.
He believes there might well not be a theatre in the current plans if this had failed to happen. He said his statements then about the need to maintain the lease which enables the Arun Arts trust to occupy the centre had proved to be correct.
The current agreement lasts until 2046 and gives the charity protection until then.
“The current trustees cannot accept a lease that ends a day earlier than the current one if, indeed, they need a new one,” said Mr Cosgrove.
“The current one needs amending, mainly to remove the restraint of trade clause about retailing alcohol.”
That will be removed under the redevelopment plan to enable the theatre to once again boast a bar – to provide further income – in a return to the pre-1996 split of the building into The Regis at the southern end.
This was confirmed to Mr Cosgrove by Arun District Council in response to 22 questions from him about the centre.
The council stated a 750-seat theatre was viewed by its consultants as unaffordable in its building cost and the level of subsidy the theatre would need.
Arun said there were no plans to alter the size of the stage to take account of any extra seats and accoustics experts would be hired to ensure the sound quality was not damaged by the changes to the auditorium.
Mr Cosgrove said he was generally happy with the responses but some important issues still remained unanswered.