We proved Broadway was viable and it could thrive again, says Bill Kenwright’s right hand man

Steve Potts outside the Broadway Theatre
Steve Potts outside the Broadway Theatre

The man at the helm of one of the country’s leading theatrical companies has countered claims that Peterborough’s Broadway Theatre is not “financially viable” and should be converted to more than 60 flats.

Steve Potts, executive director at Bill Kenwright Ltd, the company behind two very successful and lucrative three-month seasons at the theatre in 2013 and 2015, was responding to claims made in a planning application to the city council, by owner Rinaldo Fasulo, which seeks to convert the building for residential use, and said he saw no reason why it couldn’t thrive again.

Exteriors of Broadway Theatre EMN-160713-131008009

Exteriors of Broadway Theatre EMN-160713-131008009

“It is my experience and professional opinion that the Broadway is in fact viable as a theatre,” said the man who brought West End hits such as of Evita, Cabaret, Blood Brothers, Joseph and The Sound of Music to the city during the two autumn/winter spells and was altready exploring the possibility of returning in 2017 should it remain open..

In a letter to the city council’s planners he added: “The Broadway is well equipped and well placed to be a going concern, either year-round or seasonally.

“It is the only theatre in the city of Peterborough with the capacity to stage first class musicals of the type that regularly tour the UK and play the West End. Audiences are strong, and there is no competing theatre for many miles.” Of the company’s recent experience in Peterborough, he said: “Both seasons were financially, operationally and artistically successful. Box office revenues alone brought in almost £2.5 million, with an average ticket transaction value of nearly £110,000 per week. One week alone did over £300,000 at the box office. In addition, revenues from booking fees, programmes, bar sales and other ancillaries contributed to the success of the seasons. The Broadway was viable. The theory was proven.”

Mr Potts said an operator purchasing the building outright for a considerable sum (the asking price is thought to be around £4million) would still be able to run a theatre successfully. He has previously ruled out BKL buying it, however.

The Broadway Theatre plans EMN-161107-151803009

The Broadway Theatre plans EMN-161107-151803009

“My opinion is that the ideal operating scenario would likely be thecity council joining forces with a company or team with the requisite experience, running the theatre year-round.

“There is still demand from the public and presenters to re-establish the Broadway. BKL are currently exploring the possibility of a four-five month season commencing autumn 2017. I see no reason why the theatre shouldn’t thrive again, as it has before. And I would like to see the next season as a new beginning, perhaps opening the theatre on a more permanent basis.

“Removing the theatre would deprive the people of Peterborough the opportunity to enjoy, as they have previously, quality theatre productions of scale, in their community. With all that brings: to the local economy, theatre practitioners, and enriching people’s lives.”

The plea to save the Broadway as a theatre has been backed by the Peterborough Civic Society.

Peter Lee, chairman of the society, said: “Peterborough is a strong regional destination for shopping and leisure, and a thriving and fast-growing city of over 190,000 people.

“It has a substantial hinterland population whose travel time to the nearest major theatres is sufficient to make Peterborough an attractive, viable regional focus for a cultural facility of this size and quality. A replacement for the Broadway is most unlikely to be secured in the foreseeable future, either as a stand-alone facility or within a redevelopment scheme, due to the scale of investment required for a new-build theatre.”

In a letter to the Peterborough planning department, Mr Lee added: “The theatre is not a listed building but it is a distinctive and prominent feature making a positive contribution to The Park Conservation Area.

Its interior has value as an example of Art-Deco cinema aesthetic but with seating upgraded to full modern standards. Its loss would have a negative impact on the Conservation Area.”

The Theatres Trust has also said it objects to the Broadway being turned into flats.

In another letter to the council’s planning department, Ross Anthony, planning adviser for the trust, said: “The Theatres Trust strongly objects to this application for the change of use and conversion of the Broadway Theatre because the development will result in the loss of a viable cultural facility without the provision of a retained or replacement facility.”

He added: “The nearest major receiving theatres that can stage large musicals and shows are in Leicester, Northampton and Cambridge, and apart for the difficulties in travelling to these places, Peterborough is missing out on the considerable economic and social benefits of having a receiving theatre of its own.”

A council consultation on the planning application closed last week, with more than 200 responses received. A petition, with more than 1,800 signatures, has also been set up e at www.change.org/p/peterborough-city-council-refuse-planning-permission-for-the-broadway-theatre-to-be-converted-to-flats-30159e54-5eb0-4fb9-bcd8-31857bcb8465