16th January 2017
By Graham Smith
The cinema chain which is to take over Bodmin’s Public Rooms is understood to have offered £95,000 to buy the building from the town council.
Cornwall Reports has obtained details of the Merlin Cinemas proposal, which was presented to Bodmin Town Council last week ahead of the controversial decision to sell the Victorian-era building – which is listed, and which is understood to need more than £500,000 repairs.
The Merlin plan, which has never been discussed in public before, outlines the company's "aims and objectives” behind its proposal for a four-screen cinema. Merlin says it:
• Would be happy to help support the town’s museum remaining where it is presently located
• Believe the cinema would help the night-time economy in Bodmin
• Want to become an integral part of the town.
“The document says “our plans would deliver a traditional cinema box office and sales stand, offering all of the usual popular cinema snacks, popcorn ice cream, confectionary, as well as a few hot snack items like Nachos and potato wedges.
"We would also apply for a licence to sell alcohol, to provide wine and beer etc in the foyer and auditorium as presently we do all of our cinemas. We would probably install a small cinema foyer bar, there being no intention to compete with or take trade from other local licensed premises.
“The finished project would likely provide around four full-time and 20 part-time positions.”
Merlin runs 15 cinemas across the country, five of them in Cornwall. Cinema enthusiast Geoff Greaves, owner of Merlin, was recently presented with the honorary Exhibition Achievement Award, sponsored by the UK Cinema Association. He started his career at ABC Cinemas and Cinema International Corporation, before launching his own business in 1990, renovating the Savoy Cinemas in Penzance.
The Merlin cinema in Penzance
Mr Greaves told BBC Radio Cornwall’s Laurence Reed that similar projects in Cornwall had initially encountered local opposition, but that once the cinemas had opened “most local people were delighted. I’m sure that will happen in Bodmin, too.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the decision concerns the town’s museum, which has been housed within the Public Rooms for many years. Merlin’s bid says: “We recognise that the town museum as an integral part of this transaction,” it says. “We are therefore quite happy to offer back to Bodmin Town Museum an internal repairing and insuring lease, perhaps on a 25-year term subject to five-yearly rent reviews.”
The council voted 5-5, with 3 abstentions. Mayor Lance Kennedy then used his casting vote in favour of the cinema proposal. The council has been concerned for many years about the eye-watering bills for repairs and maintenance.
Opinion in Bodmin is divided over the cinema proposal. A rival bid, submitted by the Bodmin Public Rooms Trust, sought to keep the building in public ownership and run it as a centre for community activities. The Trust had raised £45,000 through crowdfunding and accepted that it would probably be out-bid – but had hoped the council would recognise the sentiment for keeping the building in public hands.
“There is no other community venue in the town,” said Chris Batters. “The people of Bodmin have been ignored by this council.” Mr Batters, who is also a Cornwall councillor, said he was disgusted by the actions of those councillors who abstained.
Some members of the Trust said they were now considering a legal challenge to the decision, possibly based on the council’s failure to record the names of councillors and how they voted.
Bodmin has not had a cinema for many years, although the precise date of when the former Palace cinema showed its last film is proving difficult to establish. Opened as the Picture Theatre in 1911 with 300 seats, it was re-named the Turrett Kinema in the 1920s. In April 1930 it was taken over by a new operator and re-named the Palace Theatre. Part-time bingo was introduced on Sundays and Wednesdays in the 1960s, and the building closed as an entertainment venue in the early 1980s. It was then taken over by estate agents. The front of the building was demolished in 1988. It is now a charity shop.
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