The Connaught Theatre could shut for good next January, The Herald can exclusively reveal.
The Assembly Hall was also at risk of closure, but the Pavilion Theatre would be upgraded, according to secret borough council reports.
Private papers revealed the historic Connaught had been judged “unsustainable as a business”.
Worthing Council leader Paul Yallop said very hard decisions had to be made in the face of stringent government cost cutting, but hoped a private operator would take over the Union Place venue, where a host of famous stage and screen stars began their careers.
However, if no new backers came forward, the theatre “should be sold for redevelopment”, according to the reports.
The adjoining Ritz digital cinema might remain open until a modern multi-screen facility was built, most probably at Teville Gate.
A second less popular option for the Connaught was to scrap plays and shows, and turn it into a full-time digital cinema, but this, too, would close if Teville Gate became a reality.
The Worthing Budgetary Advisory Group minutes stated: “The leader expressed (the view) that the Connaught Theatre is not sustainable as a business, despite trying a variety of things over a number of years, and was not in support of maintaining it as a cinema.
“Option one is to declare its proposed closure in January, 2012, and seek any expressions of interest, giving a deadline and offering a general information pack but no further support to interested parties.
“If no credible proposal is received then the building should be closed and sold for redevelopment.”
This had been supported by group chairman Alan Rice, who told the Herald: “At the moment, I cannot comment. I haven’t seen the minutes yet.”
A further report, entitled The Future of Leisure and Cultural Facilities in Worthing, suggested an improved Pavilion Theatre with 1,000 tiered seats, better acoustics, and a fly-tower.
It warned: “The assumption for the Assembly Hall is that an alternative use is found as soon as possible for this venue. The timing of close-down would depend on this.
“The assumption for the Ritz is that this will continue to operate as a digital cinema, either in conjunction with the Connaught, or stand alone until a multiplex is provided elsewhere by the private sector.
“If no credible proposal is received for the Connaught, then the building should be closed and sold for redevelopment (should we demolish?).”
The report, by John Thorpe, the council’s executive head of leisure and cultural services, also considered the future of other leisure venues, including Davison Leisure Centre and Field Place.
Davison could be handed back to West Sussex County Council and Davison High School.
Options for Field Place included total closure and sale of the site, or a partial sale and redevelopment.
Mr Yallop said the theatres cost taxpayers more than £1.2 million a year to keep open.
He said there had been local interest in taking over the Connaught, adding: “We are looking at theatre provision and we need to do less but better. The general feeling is, with the size of the budget cuts, we cannot afford to do all we are doing. It’s just not sustainable.”
A petition has been launched to save the theatres at www.saveworthingtheatres.co.uk (see external link to the top left of the screen).
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