Business leaders have welcomed the new addition to the city skyline, an £11m state-of-the-art multi-purpose venue which will host a range of music, theatre, dance and comedy.
Tonight sees the first of many performances at the venue, which has been built onto the side of the existing Fire Station arts venue, with a gig by The Lake Poets and Kathryn Tickell.
Paul Callaghan, Chair of the Music, Arts and Culture Trust, the charity that has built the auditorium and the wider Fire Station development, highlighted the positive impact it will have on Sunderland: “We expect the Fire Station to attract more than 100,000 visitors a year to see a show or to enjoy the wonderful hospitality offered in its bars and restaurant.
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“This will provide a significant boost to the local economy and our estimates are that people will spend more than £5million a year on tickets, food and drink and overnight stays.
"With the new Holiday Inn on Keel Square and the city’s existing hotels, visitors from outside the area will see the city as an ideal weekend destination where they can see a show at The Fire Station or the Empire, enjoy the city’s restaurants and bars and visit our magnificent coastline.
“Not only will this bring new visitors to the city, it also makes Sunderland not just somewhere to enjoy a great night out but also a more attractive place to live, work and study."
By next spring, the venue will also welcome a permanent outdoor stage, at the rear of the site, called The Parade Ground, a 600-capacity site which will host mini festivals and more.
Once complete, the entire Fire Station will employ around 100 people in a variety of roles.
Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of Sunderland Business Partnership and Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East comprising Sunderland College, said: “It’s such a great time to be in Sunderland and the Fire Station is helping bring excitement back into the city centre and boost an area that boasts fantastic businesses and historic buildings.
“When the auditorium opens and residents and visitors come to enjoy the incredible line up of events, it will naturally support the surrounding restaurants and bars, and indeed will create more opportunities for fresh creative talent to take to a stage – it will be hugely positive for our city centre economy, as well as developing artists.”
Sharon Appleby, Chief Executive of Sunderland BID, said: “Sunderland’s cultural vibrancy is growing and the new auditorium will attract music, theatre and comedy acts looking for a state-of-the-art venue from which to perform.
“It’s a huge boost for the city centre, and will provide an important boost to business owners in the surrounding area, making this beautiful quarter of the city an even more attractive environment for visitors and residents to spend their time.”
The opening night performance sparks the opening programme for the venue, called Firestarters, which already features a host of top acts including Royal Northern Sinfonia, Mica Paris, The Firestarters Revue presented by Mercury Prize nominees Field Music, Smoove & Turrell, An Evening with Emeli Sandé, The Shires, Beth Nielsen Chapman and many more.