Leading Birmingham architect Glenn Howells has been appointed to draw up plans to replace the city’s conservatoire, at an estimated construction cost of up to £30 million.
Birmingham City University is looking for a new site for its centre of musical excellence and the adjoining 520-seat Adrian Boult Hall because both buildings will be demolished when the redevelopment of Paradise Circus gets underway.
Three possible locations are under examination but the favourite, which has informal city council backing, envisages a striking four-storey building on the site of the former Register Office in Broad Street. The adjoining former Municipal Bank would become the new Adrian Boult Hall.
Martin Mullaney, the city council cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, is enthusiastically backing the Broad Street option which he believes could “kick-start” the long-delayed £500 million Arena Central scheme for office development, a hotel and the high-rise V Building containing luxury flats. Mr Howells has been retained by developers Argent. The firm signed an exclusivity agreement last year to work with the council on the Paradise Circus scheme, which has a potential value of up to £1 billion.
Both parties promised to publish an outline planning application in 2011 and to start work on the project in spring 2014. The timetable is still in place despite the recession and downturn in the commercial property market, according to the council.
Relocating the conservatoire remains a tricky and expensive problem. Although the building has been doomed since 2000, when plans to flatten all properties inside Paradise Circus were first announced, it has never been clear where a replacement could be sited – or, who would pay for it.
The problem is further complicated because the council entered a legal agreement several years ago to sell the former Register Office site to the promoters of Arena Central for office development.
Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) admitted the cost of replacing the conservatoire and the Adrian Boult Hall was a contentious issue.
The main bulk of the conservatoire, described by Coun Mullaney as a “hideously ugly building”, contains several public performance spaces, a large music library and six recording studios. He said Argent believed a suitable replacement could be built for about £8 million, while Birmingham City University thought £30 million would be nearer the mark.
He stressed that the new conservatoire would have to be financed either through the redevelopment value of Paradise Circus or by the university. The council would pay nothing towards the scheme, he said.
Two other locations are being considered for the conservatoire. One is the Victorian council-owned office block Louise Lorne House in Newhall Street, and the other is the basement of the Central Library.
Coun Mullaney said the cost of ripping apart the interior of Louise Lorne House and building a sound-proofed conservatoire was likely to prove uneconomic.
The Central Library basement would lend itself to a spectacular subterranean entrance, similar to the glass pyramid leading down to the Louvre Museum in Paris, but the absence of windows for the new conservatoire would be a problem.
Coun Mullaney believes cultural attractions can drive forward economic regeneration by making Birmingham a more popular location for inward investors.
Centenary Square could become Birmingham’s equivalent of New York’s Lincoln Centre, a public square surrounded by cultural buildings including Symphony Hall, the ICC, the Rep theatre, the new Library of Birmingham and the conservatoire, he claimed.
Coun Mullaney added: “If we can work with Argent and the conservatoire to find some way of making this happen, then we will. The conservatoire is a cultural gem that we need to make more of and moving it to a high profile building and location is that opportunity.
“I am very keen to keep the conservatoire in the centre of Birmingham, preferably close to Symphony Hall, because there are a lot of synergies with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.”
Argent is holding open the possibility the conservatoire could be re-built on its present site.
Spokesman Robert Groves said: “Following the public information exhibition held earlier this year, we are currently progressing the pre-planning process for the comprehensive redevelopment of Paradise Circus. Discussions are at an early stage with Birmingham City University.”
Birmingham City University Vice-Chancellor David Tidmarsh said: “A decision has not been made about relocating the conservatoire.
‘‘The council will be considering a number of factors in the pursuit of a new site, including affordability within the context of the plans for the future of Paradise Circus.”