21st May, 2018

Arts centre at Coventry's 'elephant' building would need 'serious financial backing', says council chief

Felix Nobes 16th May, 2018 Updated: 16th May, 2018

COVENTRY council chiefs are keeping an ‘open mind’ about the future of the ‘elephant’ building amid proposals to convert it into a community arts centre – saying it would need ‘serious financial backing’.

As we reported on Monday, the plan by AWD Restorations – a property development company – would save from demolition the 1970s elephant building which houses the Coventry sports and leisure centre, Fairfax Street.

Coventry City Council leaders have welcomed the idea, but say it will need a viable business model.

Cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, councillor Jim O’Boyle, told the Observer many options are being considered – including demolition.

But Alan Denyer – the owner of AWD Restorations – claims there is huge support for the idea of an arts centre.

He claims the proposals have won support from Coventry University as well as over 500 local artists, students, academics, arts and heritage organisations and community enthusiasts.

Coun O’Boyle said: “I need a business case put together by the local authority with regards to a number of possible uses.

“We need a proper appraisal including, but not exclusively, the potential of a city centre live music venue.

“But clearly any decision would require a significant amount of investment and serious financial backing.

“I have a completely open mind about the elephant – Alan and I will have a discussion.

“I have a soft spot for the elephant but a plan would have to be cost-effective. We have a responsibility to the taxpayer.”

The building was designed by the City Architects department – and opened to a fanfare in 1977.

Increasing costs have taken their toll on the sports centre and its 50-metre ‘Olympic-sized’ swimming pool – and the building is deemed no longer fit for purpose.

A new Aqua Park in New Union Street, city centre, is soon to be completed, and there are plans for a new 50-metre pool at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way.

Keith Draper, chairman of the Coventry Society which began a ‘Save the Elephant’ campaign in 2015, said: “Coventry Society has always maintained that our city centre desperately needs a multi-purpose hall.

“If the city intends to have a legacy after 2021 it will need the sort of facility that the elephant and Sports Centre can provide.”

A Coventry University spokesperson said: “We’re supportive of any efforts to secure the elephant’s future and a legacy for the building which reflects our current exciting journey towards City of Culture status for 2021.

“We’d welcome the opportunity for our students and staff to be a part of any future the building may have as a community artspace.”

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