Protests at Empire site sell-off decision
Details of a plan to save the Hackney Empire sparked outrage at a public forum in March, with local people angry over the sale of the theatre’s Wilton Way premises.
The building housing the Empire’s offices and Bullion Room performance space has been sold off to private developers for £1.1m.
It will be torn down and replaced by a mixed-use development, incorporating flats and a smaller rehearsal space which will be called the ‘New Bullion Room’.
At a public meeting at the Empire, several hundred audience members angrily shouted down a panel of representatives from the Arts Council, Hackney Council and the Empire as they tried to explain the deal.
According to the Empire management, the sale will plug gaps in the finances of the*loss-making theatre, allowing it to stay in business. The theatre has a current cash debt of around £1.5m.
The terms of the deal allow the Empire to buy back the rehearsal space for £700,000 once the redevelopment is complete, or rent it from*the developers.
Attendees shouted “shut up” at members of the panel after they tried to cut short statements from Roland Muldoon, the man who saved the Empire from its former incarnation as a Mecca Bingo hall.
Mr Muldoon told the meeting: “We got hold of that building after a great struggle. We got a lottery grant so that we could have a smaller theatre space for community projects.
“You are going to pay thousands of pounds a year to rent back Wilton Way. What kind of Jonathan Swift trick is that?” he added.
Mike Seaford, a local property solicitor, blasted the panel: “Are you saying you called this meeting to tell everybody what you have already decided?
“As a solicitor of more than 40 years standing I have never known a board which has brought a company to this sort of crisis and not offered their resignation.”
The representative of the Empire management defended their position and their actions. “The board decided that they needed to stay in place and work with the Arts Council to secure this building through this difficult situation,” she said.