'Last chance saloon' closure warning over £8.9m funding gap for revamp of King’s Theatre in Edinburgh
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Capital Theatres, which runs the 117-year-old venue, has pleaded with the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council to plug a growing funding gap to allow a long-awaited refurbishment to go ahead.
Chief executive Fiona Gibson said the venue was in the “last chance saloon” and fighting for survival after the costs of the project, which was delayed by the Covid pandemic, soared way over its previous £25.7 million budget.
Succession star Brian Cox, the honorary patron of the King’s, joined Capital Theatres in warning that the venue was at risk of having to “close its doors forever.”
The Tollross venue – where Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Simon Callow, Maria Callas, Ian McKellen, Rikki Fulton, Alan Cumming and Sean Connery have all performed - has been closed since the end of August ahead of a planned start of work on the troubled project.
Capital Theatres, the charity which has run the King’s on behalf of the council in modern times, says it plans to “hand the keys back” if the additional funding for the revamp cannot be found. It has raised £26.7 million, incuding negotiating a prudential loan, but is now grappling with a £35.6 million price tag.
The King’s was planned to opened to the public every day for the first time under its proposed overhaul, which is proposed to include a brand new stage to help the venue attract world-class opera, theatre and drama productions which currently bypass the venue.
Cramped and run-down dressing rooms, wardrobe and “green room” areas are also due to be transformed under the project, which was instigated to try to ensure the King's does not close as a result of “a sudden failure of infrastructure or through a more gradual reduction in attendances”.
The project also includes a “learning studio” for schools and community groups, a new box office, two new bars, a street level cafe/bar, and the venue’s first lifts to improve access to every level of the building.
Work on the project was due to get underway after last year’s Edinburgh International Festival, but was put on hold in the face of its spiralling costs blamed on inflation and the war in Ukraine.
The current price tag of £35. million has been confirmed after hopes that the project could be supported through the UK Government's “Levelling Up” fund were dashed when a bid from Edinburgh was rejected.
The current £8.9 million gap has grown significantly since August when Capital Theatres warned that the venue’s future was in peril over a shortfall then estimated at £7 million.
Capital Theatres has insisted it cannot start work on the refurbishment until the funding gap is bridged. It has ruled out scaling back the project and has warned that a significant delay could put the entire revamp at risk.
Ms Gibson said: “This really is the last chance saloon for the King’s.
“It’s been a long road planning and fundraising to turn it into both a thriving community hub, fully accessible to audiences and performers, and a world-class venue, while maintaining its history and heritage.
“Nearly all the original capital cost estimate to transform the King’s is in place thanks to grants from the Scottish Government, the council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, generous donations from our patrons and donors, companies and trusts, as well as our own contribution.
"However, as with all construction projects in the UK currently, we are facing new challenges because of delays in supply chain caused by changing trading agreements, global conflict and increasing levels of inflation.
"We’ve examined our options and we cannot reduce the project cost any further by value engineering and to delay the redevelopment could lead to even higher costs in the long-term, putting the entire project at risk.
"If the money is not found in the next few weeks, the last opportunity for us to greenlight the project, the King’s could close its doors forever.
“We know what a difficult time this is to be asking for additional funding with so much financial need in every area of civic life, but as custodians of this beloved theatre, we have to fight for its survival.”
The Scottish Government confirmed £6.5m for the King’s overhaul in 2021, while a £4m pledge from the city council has been in place for several years. It was hoped that extra funding for the King's could be secured through Edinburgh's bid for up to £42.1m of “Levelling Up” funding. It was also hoped that the bid could help pay for work at Leith Theatre, the Usher Hall, the Queen's Hall and a new arts centre in north Edinburgh.
Cox said: “The King’s is vital to the Scottish Theatre ecology and a key touring venue which brings a variety of genres to the central belt, not to mention a source of comfort and joy in panto season.
“Without the planned transformational redevelopment improving access, preserving heritage and opening the building up to the community, the King’s will close its doors
"After a hugely successful fundraising effort to reach the original budgeted cost of £26 million, we cannot let the rising costs due to inflation, trade agreements and global conflict put the project in peril. We must save the King’s for future generations.”
Val Walker, culture convener at the city council. said: “While we’re disappointed not to have been successful in this round of the Levelling Up fund, we look forward to continuing dialogue and exploring any opportunities open to help secure the future of the King’s.”