Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion sold for £1 – but it could be the key to seaside town’s revival

The Spa Pavilion at Felixstowe.

The Spa Pavilion at Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant

Community leaders believe selling Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion could be the key to its revival – even though they only got £1 for the theatre.

Front – Cllr Geoff Holdcroft (left) with NRG Theatres’ chief executive, Ray Anderson, watched by (ba

Front Cllr Geoff Holdcroft (left) with NRG Theatres chief executive, Ray Anderson, watched by (back left to right) with NRG Theatres artist director, Vince Rayner, Cllr Andy Smith and Suffolk Coastals Leader, Cllr Ray Herring. Photo: Paul Nixon - Credit: Archant

It is understood that is the price being paid by NRG Theatres Ltd for the seafront venue, which has been closed for two years.

The £1 deal is the same principle as a peppercorn rent, where the tenants are blessed with not having to stump up rent each year for premises and able instead to invest their resources in the project they are working on.

Suffolk Coastal council’s aim is to help NRG to reopen the Spa as a theatre and restaurant by ensuring the company does not have to use its precious funds to purchase the 913-seater building and can use its money for necessary refurbishment.

Selling the building was a better option than renting because it removes the burden from taxpayers of maintaining and repairing the property or giving any subsidy.

Previously the council was paying an operating company £240,000 – money it will now save.

The authority has also built into the contract clauses to ensure that if NRG’s plans fail and the building has to be sold for other uses or redevelopment the council will claw back the profits.

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A Suffolk Coastal spokesman said contracts had been exchanged, but the sale will not be completed until May 15.

He said: “Our priority has always been to retain the Spa Pavilion as a theatre venue, without it being a burden to the local tax payer.

“The new owners, NRG Theatres Ltd, has requested we do not discuss the precise detail of our agreement, until after the sale has been completed. After that date, we will be able to discuss the contract, as it will be a matter of public record.

“While we cannot discuss the detail of the agreement, Suffolk Coastal would like to reassure people that NRG Theatres Ltd provided a credible business case, which offered the best deal for the people of this district.

“Importantly, it does not require Suffolk Coastal to invest any further money in the restoration or on-going upkeep of the Spa Pavilion, while retaining it as a venue for local people and visitors in the future. The contract includes the requirement for the Spa Pavilion to remain primarily a theatre/entertainments venue in the future.”

Ray Anderson, chief executive of NRG Theatres, said he was bound by contract confidentiality not to speak about the deal at this time.

Trevor Lockwood, who led one of the earlier bids rejected by the council, described the sale for £1 as “a disgrace” and felt his group’s proposals were unfairly dismissed.

He said: “I am absolutely staggered to hear it’s been sold for £1. I was part of a group of 20 people – local people with all sorts of skills: accountants, lawyers, theatre professionals – who wanted to take the Spa on and had ideas to make it a thriving community venue. We were told we had not got a sufficient financial history as a group.”

The project envisaged reducing the size of the auditorium to create a space to be used as a dance studio, exhibitions, conferences, meetings and other community events, with the restaurant revamped and a cafeteria on the ground floor open to the beach.

Mr Lockwood said: “We wanted to have the Spa open all day – starting with playgroups, pilates, school events, and then the restaurant would be open, theatre in the evening. I will never understand why we were rejected.”

Playwright and FADOS (Felixstowe Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society) committee member Suzanne Hawkes said: “Selling it for £1 is so unfair – though I am not surprised. Any community group could have taken it on that basis. If someone had told me I could have it for £1 I would have found the grants and support to make a go of it. I think it’s awful. This deal doesn’t guarantee its future.”