$10 m. facelift for Empire Theatre building

$10 million!

That’s how much it will take to restore the historic Empire Theatre building.

The long awaited restoration is expected to commence very soon, but cost will not be borne by the Barbados Government. Instead, a consortium of investors, led by Mark Maloney of Preconco Limited, will finance the entire project from their own coffers.

This was revealed by Minister of Culture, Stephen Lashley, this morning as he updated the media on the restoration project.

Though he was unable to definitively state when the work would begin, he assured that the company had the finances and were set to commence work as soon as the Town and Country planning approved all of the proposals.

When restored, the theatre will have a capacity of 290 people and will feature a craft brewery, which would manufacture Barbadian beer. It will also include a visitor centre.

The theatre and craft brewery will function separately, with the theatre being placed at the disposal of the Government to be managed and controlled by the Ministry of Family, Sports and Culture, which will lease the building for 25 years.

Lashley said that since it would be unsustainable to maintain the facility solely as a theatre, they made the decision to make it dual purpose — the visitor centre and craft brewery will therefore function jointly to subsidise the theatre and to assist in its marketing.

Activities†are expected to include tours of the brewery, theatrical presentations and heritage tours.

While he said he expected that the restoration would enhance†and benefit the overall Bridgetown area through the provision of an environment to showcase Barbadian culture, the enhancement of the tourism product, the provision of employment opportunities and the realisation of foreign exchange earnings through the sale and export of the beer to be produced at facility.

As part of the agreement with the consortium, when restored it will remain under the ownership of Barbados, it should be utilised for some kind of cultural activity, respect the integrity of the historic structure and have the approval of the Barbados World Heritage Committee, Lashley said.

“Upon coming to office, this Government, recognising the pivotal role of culture in national development, made a commitment to the development of local cultural industries. It is our intentions as a Government that the credible economic and social potential of the culture sector should be exploited through the provision of infrastructure, which would stimulate and nurture the innate creativity of Barbadians and promote the widest possible form.

“We do know that the Empire falls within the historic properties of Bridgetown and its Garrison and therefore it is within that context that certainly I … see this as a priority. The current structure of the Empire is indeed rather in poor state…

“It has been affected by wear and tear over time and vandalism over the years and therefore urgent action is needed to restore and to prevent the external walls from collapsing.

“I am satisfied that this is the best proposal, it achieves†all of the objectives which were set. One of the prime objectives that I would have to any restoration of any of our historic sites for the purposes of cultural activities would be to ensure that Barbadians can use that facility at the least cost possible.

“As you know investors would come on board, some of them come on board for profit and I am glad to say that some come on board with a view to ensure that they can return some of their earnings to the community, and this is something that ought to be commended. I would certainly like to invite other corporate entities to join with the Government in moving forward in creating more culture spaces for our artists… The Government does not have the funds to do this and therefore we welcome the opportunity a private sector agency coming on board,” said Lashley.

The Empire Theatre was constructed in 1922 and was believed to be last operational in 1984. Efforts to restore the building date back to 1997. (KC)†

2 Responses to $10 m. facelift for Empire Theatre building

  1. John Chambless March 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I have a 1930s-1940s photo of this theater taken by a Percival Campbell, who lived in Canefield House in the 1940s. I also have many of his letters about his son, possibly, Miles, doing benefit theatrical productions to raise money for the war effort at the theater. There are several of his photos of Canefield as well. Does anyone want these for historical use? I’d be happy to send them, free of charge! E-mail me!

  2. Andrew Simpson March 30, 2017 at 6:57 am

    It would be wonderful to have a restoration completed but am wary about the lease back to GOB for 25 years. Without some numbers to go on, one must wonder whether this can be economically feasible giving the countrys’ coffers. These types of arrangements must be conducted in a more transparent and accountable manner, with long term costs and benefits foremost in mind.


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