A VISION for a centre containing a 350-seat theatre located in the town centre was outlined at this week’s meeting of Clare County Council’s Housing, Social and Cultural Services SPC.
Derek Barrett, chairman of the Shannon Musical Society, gave a presentation to the members. He said that while Shannon has a vibrant community, with plenty of business, civic and sporting facilities, “there is no outlet for the arts”.
He said when the town was being built originally, a few community centres were included but these have fallen into disrepair over the years.
The town has suffered in recent years and he said the provision of such a centre could provide a focal point in Shannon. “There is little to draw people to the town or at half five to keep them,” he added.
The vision is that the centre would be “iconic, sustainable and viable”, he claimed, adding that Kevin Thompstone and Eoin Hoctor have been working with him. He said they want the centre to be debt-free when delivered.
Mr Barrett said the centre would need to be multi-functional and able to attract different groups. He noted that large businesses in the town currently don’t have a local facility like it to use, if they have major events.
He said he had been to around 15 such centres around the country, spoken to the people involved in them and found out what they do well and what they would like to change.
Having a 350-seat venue generally means costs of “in or around €1.2 million” per annum, with much of it on staff costs, he said. To be viable, quite a high usage of the centre would be needed, Mr Barrett added. “To be truly viable we feel it would have to be multi-functional. There would need to be events on the wet Wednesday in October, as well as the sunny day in the summer.”
He said, at present, the Shannon Musical Society spends thousands each year on lighting and tiered seating, while the Mews theatre group go to the Oakwood and the Eclipse drama group go to Ennis for their shows.
A list of sites that have been considered were presented and include Drumgeely Hall, Tullyvarraga Hall and the Old Airport Boiler House. However, in the end, the group identified a location in the town centre, which he said has been like a building site for 10-11 years and is surrounded by hoarding. The site is close to Mr Barrett’s own business, Peach Recruitment.
He said they have sought to get the site from Shannon Development and while a decision was originally expected in April, it still hasn’t been forthcoming, although it is hoped it will be made in the near future.
Mr Barrett said the three men currently involved are in the process of setting up a legal entity that wouldn’t be for profit.
He said this year he hopes the site will be secured and that planning approval might be obtained. However, he said the entire project will take some time. “I know it’s a slow burner. It’s three or four years down the road.”
County Councillor Gerry Flynn said he felt the centre would need the backing of the county council to be viable. “Certainly something is needed in Shannon but without the local authority, there will be problems,” he said.
Councillor Flynn criticised Shannon Development, saying it “should have done the decent thing and made it [the site] available to the local authority”.
Councillor Pat Hayes said he has been on the board of Glór and he knows arts centres around the country aren’t viable on a completely commercial basis.
He also questioned where the money would come from that would allow it to open debt free and asked if a smaller capacity would be more suitable.
Mr Barrett said there has been contact with some large corporations about assistance. He said he realises both the county council and Arts Council are under financial strain but said once opened, its cost base could be kept lower than other facilities.
Councillor Patricia McCarthy said it was obvious that a lot of work and research had been done and the provision of such a centre in Shannon would “benefit all of us in the long-term”.