HUDDERSFIELD actors have been given one last chance to bring a famous venue back into use.
The dilapidated Palace Theatre on Venn Street is due to be converted into student flats following a long planning battle.
But owner Simmy Sekhon has announced that the famous venue could be converted back into a theatre – providing acting groups come up with the money in the next four weeks.
The businessman, who bought the building for £350,000 last year, met representatives of Huddersfield theatrical groups on Friday.
Mr Sekhon said: “I have been approached by a number of people who have made overwhelming requests to me to consider opening a theatre.
“I have gone to great lengths to obtain planing permission for student accommodation. However, if they can present a sustainable business plan then I would be willing to consider the proposal.”
But Mr Sekhon added that the groups had little time to make their case.
“They are putting together a business plan but there’s only a very small timeframe because the building has holding costs,” he said.
“Their estimate is that it would cost £3m to refurbish the building and turn it into a theatre. They have got four weeks to put forward sound evidence that they can raise the money.
“It’s a costly exercise but they said they were going to go to the business community.”
Mr Sekhon won planning permission in July to convert the Palace into 87 student flats.
Kirklees Council gave the go-ahead despite opposition from the owners of the Kingsgate Centre who claimed the conversion would endanger their plans for a £40m expansion of the shopping centre which could create up to 900 jobs.
Mr Sekhon said yesterday he was still committed to the student flats proposal.
“I’m just waiting for some final costings from the contractor and I would like to start work as soon as possible,” he said.
“I would like the flats to be ready by September 2013.
“As a good and responsible person, if someone makes a request then I’ve got to consider it.”
Chris Marsden, of Huddersfield Civic Society, was an observer at Friday’s meeting where the theatre plan was outlined.
“I was amazed by this turn of events,” he said yesterday.
“I’m sympathetic to the idea of a theatre in that space but only if it doesn’t jeopardise the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
“If the town can take two theatres then all well and good but any business plan has to recognise that there is competition.”
Steve Marsden, of Huddersfield Thespians, which had a representative at the meeting, does not believe a new theatre would benefit the town’s amateur groups.
“To make it a viable theatre it needs to be bigger than the one we’ve already got,” he said.
“But as amateur groups we would need a smaller venue of 250 to 300 seats so I think this would be a backward step.”