What next for Alban Arena and city centre culture?

Will the Alban Arena be demolished?

Will the Alban Arena be demolished? - Credit: SADC

The future of the Alban Arena is being considered as part of a council strategy aimed at enhancing the city's cultural assets.

The initiative wants ensure the City Centre Opportunity Site (CCOS) North is redeveloped to its maximum potential as a focal point for the arts as well as providing a new public green space beside the Civic Centre.

Councillors on the regeneration and business committee have agreed that before a design brief could be compiled for a proposed architectural competition, three specific areas of work need to be undertaken by special project teams.

These will involve relevant specialists from the community, consultants, resident representatives, local businesses, statutory services, council managers and councillors. They will be based on the previously successful model used in developing the new St Albans Museum +Gallery.

Ahead of any decision, councillors agreed on the production of a cultural strategy to determine what arts facilities will be needed in the future, city centre car parking capacity study and community consultation and communication on the future of the Alban Arena and the options either to refurbish it in its existing location or to demolish and rebuild it elsewhere within the CCOS North site.

Chair Cllr Robert Donald said: “CCOS North and culture is a prime redevelopment site in the very heart of our city.

“It includes the existing Alban Arena, the Civic Centre and its adjacent car parks, a public square and a rose garden.

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“We are determined that in giving the area a new lease of life for decades to come, we provide both a new green space in the city centre and encourage first-class cultural facilities to flourish for arts, leisure and heritage for our residents to enjoy and to attract visitors.

“In order to do this, we need specific strategies to map the way forward for St Albans as a destination that will meet the aspirations and diversity of our community and tourists."

The Arena, built more than 50 years ago, has begun showing signs of age while its backstage facilities have proved unsuitable for some major touring shows that it could otherwise stage.

There has already been some public debate over whether the building should be refurbished or demolished and replaced.

The committee was told that the CCOS project team are looking to appoint consultants to help decide on this issue.

Market research is to be conducted to find out which option the public favour.

There will also be an analysis of the environmental carbon impact of refurbishing the Arena rather than demolishing it and replacing it with a new building.

Cllr Donald added: “We want to create a development that will have a lasting cultural, heritage and environmental legacy which further establishes St Albans as a premier place to live, work and socialise in for many years to come.”

Richard Marrett, destination manager for St Albans BID (Business Improvement District), welcomed the plans: "St Albans BID is committed to ensuring that St Albans flourishes as a commercial, vibrant and resilient destination - so we welcome the redevelopment proposals. We are particularly interested in the cultural strategy, which is important to ensure we protect our reputation as a city with a thriving and lively arts and entertainment scene.

"Additionally, we note the car parking capacity study and provisions for pedestrianisation, cycling and public transport as being able to access and move around the city centre is a key factor for both visitors and locals.

"The BID will work alongside SADC and the special project teams to support engagement with businesses and ensure that levy payer voices are heard, and their opinions are earnestly considered throughout the consultation process to maximise opportunities for local businesses."