THERE IS massive support for the conversion of Coventry’s iconic ‘elephant’ building into an arts and heritage centre, says the developer behind the proposals.
Negotiations are at an early stage between AWD restorations – a property development company – and Coventry City Council for the creation of a community arts space at the 1970s elephant building on Fairfax Street – currently a sports and leisure centre.
Alan Denyer – the owner of AWD restorations and pioneer of the proposals – claimed the success of the current arts space at the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building on Corporation Street shows it could be a hugely popular idea.
He has made his case for the building to be renovated into a free-to-use Community Arts and Heritage Centre which he says has ‘the potential to take centrestage, as Coventry’s Guggenheim’ – referring to the famed New York gallery and museum.
Plans would see art displays, heritage exhibits, workshops and events.
The proposals have won support from Coventry University’s arts department as well as over 500 local artists, students, academics, arts and heritage organisations and community enthusiasts – Mr Denyer claims.
The former CET building will become a unique 1950s style hotel in the summer.
Mr Denyer – who also helped make the CET gallery plans a reality – said the arts space has attracted more than 20,000 visitors since it opened in May last year.
Mr Denyer, who hopes to purchase the building, told the Observer: “We have been blown away by messages of support from the general public.
“People are looking for sustainability – something long-term – especially as we approach UK City of Culture 2021.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the city and people want someone to step in and preserve the city’s culture and its arts scene.”
The plans would also see conversion of the upper element of the sports hall space into ‘New York style’ loft apartments.
The building was designed by Terence Gregory and Harry Noble of the City Architects department – and opened to a fanfare in 1977.
Dwindling usage, and increasing costs, have both taken their toll – and the building is deemed no longer fit for purpose by the council.
A new Aqua Park Leisure facility in New Union Street, city centre, is soon to be completed.
However, the elephant building is now attracting a new audience keen to keep it as part of Coventry’s skyline.
Keith Draper, the chairman of the Coventry Society – an organisation which aims to preserve important elements of Coventry’s architecture and culture, said: “The Coventry Society believes both The elephant and the Central Swimming Baths next door should have a new use for the benefit of the people of Coventry.
“Coventry Society has always maintained that our city centre desperately needs a multi-purpose hall similar to that found in other towns and cities.
“This would enable modest size concerts to be held whether they be folk, jazz or classical – even pop-up events we have seen these last 12 months at the former CET building.
“If the city intends to have a legacy after 2021 the people of Coventry, all ages, need the sort of facility that the elephant and Sports Centre can provide.”
A Coventry University spokesperson added: “We’re supportive of any efforts to secure its future and a legacy for the building which reflects our current exciting journey towards City of Culture status for 2021.
“As set out in Coventry’s 10-year cultural strategy, our university – as a principal partner of Coventry 2021 – is committed to a range of ideas and initiatives that will celebrate and enhance our city’s strengths in the arts and creative industries, including exploring how we can best use the spaces in the city to help our creatives and artists to thrive.”