A project to expand one of Leicester’s best-loved arts venues has been thrown a financial lifeline by Leicester City Council to enable the work to continue.
The Phoenix 2020 project is being carried out to extend the Cultural Quarter arts venue to include additional cinema screens, improved catering facilities and enhanced digital gallery, which when completed will enable it to accommodate more visitors and become more financially self-sufficient.
However, disruption from Covid-19 has left the charity which runs Phoenix – Leicester Arts Centre Ltd – in a race against time to bridge the £1million shortfall in finances it needs to start work.
The contractor’s fixed price for the scheme can only be held for a few weeks before further cost increases become inevitable and some of the funding already secured is under threat of lapsing unless the project can get on site in the next couple of months.
Leicester City Council has now agreed to grant fund Leicester Arts Centre Ltd with up to £500,000 to make up the funding shortfall and enable the work to continue, alongside Arts Council England (ACE) which is also matching that with a further £500,000.
The money is coming from resources set aside to help the city’s covid recovery, and will be repaid to the city council if it is not used.
It is in addition to £1m worth of council funding already made to the Phoenix under the city council’s Economic Action Plan, and a £400k allocation from the county-wide business rates pool that is administered by the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership Limited (LLEP).
The project has already secured a £4m grant from Arts Council England, along with contributions from charitable trusts, European funds, the city council and individual supporters. The total cost of the scheme is £8.71m.
Leicester deputy city mayor for culture, leisure and sport, Cllr Piara Singh Clair, said:
“The project is now at a crucial stage, and a decision has to be made on whether Leicester Arts Centre Ltd can proceed to appoint a contractor for the scheme, or face the likelihood that the other external funding for the project will be lost.
“Phoenix is a vital part of the city’s cultural offer, and the increase in audiences and visitor numbers resulting from the work that needs to be carried out will enable the venue to be much more financially secure.
“Like many businesses, Phoenix’s trade has been hit hard over the last 18 months. Without this improvement work taking place, Phoenix will find it harder to remain sustainable as operating costs for the current set up outstrip its income.
“Leicester Arts Centre Ltd has taken steps to secure much of the funding for the scheme but the extent of the work needed, and the disruption from covid, means that there is still a £1m shortfall.
“By enabling this project to go ahead now, it can be done within the tendered costs and within the time frame to be able to use the funding it has already secured, thereby safeguarding the project and the venue’s future.”
Work is due to start on site this summer and be completed in autumn 2022.