HAZLITT CLOSURE: Theatre drives £5m a year into local economy - report
Thursday 19th November 2020
THE Hazlitt Theatre will shut despite pumping £5m into the local economy each year, official papers conclude.
The scale of the potential loss to Maidstone appears in a report prepared by Maidstone Borough Council (MBC), which has resolved to shut the venue to save money and sever the contract with the company which runs the arts hub.
An MBC committee decided to close the theatre last week to save the cash-strapped authority the £243, 000 subsidy paid to contractor Parkwood to operate it.
The news of the town's only performance venue - which stages a succcessful panto and a host of community projects - sparked a massive public outcry with more than 4,600 people joining Daily Downs Mail's "SAVE THE HAZLITT" Facebook page.
The MBC report states: "Economic impact of theatres is calculated using the Shellard Model, which calculates the direct and indirect contributions that a theatre makes to the local economy.
"Under normal operating conditions this model gives a positive economic impact of the Hazlitt Theatre of £5,152,761 into the local economy per annum."
The only hope of the Hazlitt being saved is if the policy and resources (P&R) committee backs a challenge led by Cllr Jonathan Purle (Con) to reverse the closure decision. That committee, chaired by MBC leader Martin Cox (Lib Dem), takes place on November 25.
MBC insiders tell Daily Downs Mail that this is unlikely presently unless another solution can be found or the council drops the closure plans entirely in the face of public feeling.
The same MBC report, prepared for next week's P&R committee meeting, says: "The basic commercial assumptions that underpinned the viability of the original contract at the Hazlitt are no longer the case and this situation looks likely to continue. It is not known when, or if, the conditions for sustainable local theatre will return."
MBC signed a deal with Parkwood Theatres in 2013 and is meant to run until 2028.
Tony Doherty, the managing director of Parkwood Theatres, said: "The annual cost to MBC of running the Hazlitt in 2013 was about £650,000 a year. We brought that down massively and today we receive £243,000.
"At this point in the 15 year cycle, the Hazlitt doesn't really make any money, not least because one third of what we do is community-based. But by improving ticket sales, the Hazlitt is on course to profitability in the second half of that cycle.
"The clamour of the public has been unbelievable, so we are obviously doing the right thing."
He warned that when small local theatres shut, they usually shut for good.
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