Cinema Focus Group Recommendation to Tenterden Town Council External Committee 12 November 2018
TTC should commission a Full Building Feasibility Study and initial business plan for the conversion of The Pebbles as a boutique cinema, with a budget of £30,000 + VAT. This should cover the activities proposed by Burrell, Foley Fischer in their email of 27 September, but go to competitive tender. The Focus Group would be happy to assist TTC in inviting and evaluating tenders.
“There is overwhelming support for the Council to attract a commercial boutique cinema operator to the town” (Lipton Report). In June 2018 TTC’s Public Engagement survey of resident priorities for Council service delivery ranked the Cinema as a ‘high’ priority in seventh place (out of 26).
The Pebbles building is the preferred venue option on grounds of location, site suitability and affordability. The specialist consultants’ Site Options Appraisal (July 2018) found that the Pebbles building could deliver a two-screen cinema seating up to 150 people and café/bar. It would make a positive contribution to the Town Centre and the day and night-time economy. The consultants found genuine operator interest in funding the fit-out expenditure and operating the venue. The cinema sector is undergoing a period of widespread investment based on increased levels of luxury, technical sophistication, excellent catering and an emphasis on small town-centre cinemas offering a range of cultural programming as well as movies.
They cater to a wide demographic. Audiences are predominantly under 30 although the 15-24 audience is
declining and the 55+ audience is growing.
The Focus Group has set up three Working Groups to explore ways of progressing the project. On the basis
of their findings to date (summarised below) the Focus Group has concluded that:
• The project is viable;
• It can be structured and funded as a Community Project that minimises risks to TTC;
• A Full Building Feasibility Study, commissioned and funded by TTC as the building’s owner, is an essential next step.
Finance & Structure Working Group findings
We have tested the assumption of visitors given in the Craigmount report with further analysis based on drive times and 2011 census data. Our work suggests a figure higher than Craigmount’s estimate of 70,000 annual admissions but our recommendation is based on the more conservative figure.
The Site Options Appraisal report (July 2018) estimated costs of £1.81m including fit-out, but this excludes VAT, fees and contingencies. These are likely to bring the total cost to at least £2.5m of which technical fit-out (£315K) and fittings (£270K) would normally be met by the operator. These figures can only be confirmed when a full Building Feasibility Study is complete.
The scope for local government funding is limited, so we propose that a substantial portion of the capital will come from the community. It is premature to start detailed discussions with potential financiers, public or private, until we have confirmation that the project is viable from both a building and planning perspective and can make a financial plan based upon detailed estimates. Nevertheless, informal discussions have been held with a small number of senior local government officers regarding possible (low-cost) Public Works Board funding. Private and confidential approaches to local charities and
individuals have met a strong willingness in principle to support a well-founded cinema project through donations, bond issue, equity or other methods.
Assuming a figure of 70,000 visits and an indicative cost estimate of £2.5m, preliminary analysis indicates that the cinema would be viable with a combination of private investment and, if available PWB funding or a mortgage, assuming an input from TTC of £0.5m.
It will be necessary to create a new legal entity to carry out the project. We believe either a “Community Interest” or “Limited by Guarantee” Company could work subject to a formal review of VAT implications, benefits, fundraising and operator requirements under different arrangements. However, the underlying principles will always be that TTC retains the freehold of The Pebbles; that the operational risk is not with TTC; and that any borrowing is undertaken by the Company.
Operators Working Group findings
The Lipton Group report feared that Tenterden lacked a suitable location that could attract an operator. However, four operators have now expressed an initial interest. The Working Group is preparing a questionnaire to test that interest in a series of meetings. The following table summarises the candidates.
Route Map Working Group findings
The Route Map is a living document (updated to reflect events) that describes on a time-line each activity needed for the development of the cinema, and the dependences between them. The activities are divided into three phases: Investigation (currently active); Initiation and Implementation.
Investigation covers the activities of the three Working Groups; their presentation for decision to TTC; and the commissioning and execution of the Full Building Feasibility Study. Subject to the technical findings of the study, approval of a pre-planning application to ABC and TTC approval, the Investigation results in the preparation of a business plan and company prospectus, a MoU with a preferred operator and the choice of a legal structure. On TTC approval and commitment in principle to the future lease of The Pebbles to a cinema company, it is envisaged that TTC would ask White Stuff to accept early termination of the current lease. We are informed they are willing in principle.
The Initiation Phase finalises the legal structure; creates the company; confirms the investment; prepares detailed designs and tender documents; applies for full planning permission; and gains operator commitment.
The Implementation Phase covers tendering, construction and fit out. The following graphic summarises the phases and main milestones on the critical path, with indicative dates. A more detailed Gantt chart, showing activities, is available on request.
Site Options Appraisal for Tenterden Town Cinema
Prepared for Tenterden Town Council by:
Ron Inglis of Craigmount Consulting
Stefanie Fischer of Burrell Foley Fischer LLP
Chris Goucher of Greenwood Projects