Councillors tonight approved a recommendation to completely demolish the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre and replace it with a complete new build as part of the city's new Theatre/ Conference complex which will combine Newry Town Hall and the arts centre site. The decision now goes forward to the full council meeting in September for ratification.

The decision was made at the monthly Strategy Policy and Resources committee meeting in Downpatrick, on a busy night where the decision was also made to base the new Civic Centre at Abbey Way in Newry.

It was one of two options presented to the meeting from a RIBA Stage 1 report. Option one was part demolition of the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre with new build and bridge structure to Town Hall. Option two was demolition of Sean Hollywood Arts Centre with new build and link structure to Town Hall.

The report recommended Option two be adopted as the basis for progressing design as it claimed the option would lessen historic environment division concerns with Town Hall setting, increase efficiency of design, increase efficiency of set and equipment deliveries, encourage pedestrian movement at ground level and maximise occupancy of the new build theatre. Option two would also result in a significant increase in seating in a new auditorium which potentially could seat around 250 people.

Councillors have approved a proposal to demolish the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre as part of a new Theatre and Conference facility in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Councillors have approved a proposal to demolish the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre as part of a new Theatre and Conference facility in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

£20M has already been allocated within the capital budget for this and the Civic Hub project."

The Sean Hollywood Arts Centre began its life as Newry Savings Bank in 1840. There followed a spell as Newry Technical College.

The Newry Arts Centre and museum finally opened in 1982 and was re-named the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre in 2003 following the death of Newry's Sean Hollywood who ran Newpoint Players.

Speaking to Councillor Michael Savage, Chair of the Strategy Policy and Resources Committee said the aim was "to construct a new state of the art 21st Century Theatre and Conference Centre that meets the needs of our rich local tapestry of music, drama, dance, crafts and creative arts that make up our vibrant arts sector in the Greater Newry area.

Councillor Michael Savage
Councillor Michael Savage

 “We needed to take a bold step and this proposal wraps a new state of the art 21st century facility around the Town Hall and it puts a modern building up against the old historic building, which has become a design thread that is evident in all major cities across Europe.

Cllr Savage continued "The proposal brings our waterways into play through the construction of an outdoor performance area that backs on to the canal. The rear of the Ross Thompson site is south facing so it lends itself to outdoor events and galleries and cafes etc that overlook Newry Canal."

Speaking about Sean Hollywood and his legacy the Newry councillor added "Sean Hollywood was a dear dear friend of many of my party colleagues and was somebody that we have huge respect for. We believe that the current arts centre has past its sell-by date, it doesn't meet the needs of our vibrant arts sector and it's time to develop a 21st century facility that is fitting to the phenomenal legacy that Sean Hollywood and other key players within our arts sector over the years have left on our city.

"Some people will have an attachment to the old building and that is understandable but in order to meet the access demands to construct a 21st Century Facility it has been recommended that demolition is the best way to achieve this.

“We now get down to the detail of the design and go through the process reaching out and consulting with the arts sector to ensure that what we build and develop on the site becomes a jewel in the crown for the city that is recognised throughout these islands.

Concluding Cllr Savage said "As we approach the 20th anniversary of Newry being awarded city status, we now are finally starting to fulfil the ambition and vision that we had 20 years ago and over the next number of years Newry will be transformed potentially beyond recognition and the council will take the lead in doing that by regenerating the city centre and providing facilities that will be enjoyed by generations to come."

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