Culture 19/01/2022

Liceu plans a second venue in Port Vell's old IMAX cinema

The theatre's executive committee will evaluate the proposal this Wednesday and prepare the project for the spring

3 min
The Imax at the Old Port closed seven years ago and has been degrading

BarcelonaAfter the alliance between the Hermitage and the Gran Teatre del Liceu came to nothing due to Barcelona City Council's refusal to install a private branch of the Russian museum on land owned by Barcelona's port, the opera house has continued working to find a suitable location to open a second hall, which would be dedicated to more experimental and contemporary projects. As ARA has been able to learn, this new site will be the former Imax cinema at Port Vell, closed since 2014. This is what is being proposed this Wednesday at Liceu's executive committee, where the administrations that make it up (Barcelona City Council, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Barcelona Provincial Council) are represented. If it receives the approval of the institutions, the general director of the theatre will be asked to present a project in the spring and, at the same time, the process of seeking funding to move it forward will begin. The Catalan Culture Department does not want to evaluate the operation until it sees "the viability of the project". The proposal could lead to a broader agreement than the joining the Hermitage did, as the previous one it did not even have the necessary space for a concert hall and a museum at the same time.

When the Hermitage project was rejected by the City Council last May, both the Councillor for Culture (who at the time was the current Minister Joan Subirats) and the general director of the Liceu, Valentí Oviedo, said that an alternative space could be found in the port. In the meantime, there has been a change in the presidency of the Port of Barcelona, which has passed from Mercè Conesa - a great supporter of the Hermitage project - to Damià Calvet.

An announced demolition

The Imax space has several attributes that count in its favour. On the one hand, the fact that it is a concession that was recovered by the Port of Barcelona after it was abandoned for years by the company that managed the Imax cinema, Teatromax; this degradation ended with a fire in January 2020 when about twenty homeless people were living there. According to the zoning license, the site has to be used for commercial, cultural and recreational uses. The options that have been considered over the years have been diverse, from expanding the Maremagnum shopping centre to the possibility of building a theatre or also a neighbourhood space. The concession expired in 2024, but in February 2020 the Port announced that the site would be demolished, 25 years after the pompous inauguration by then Mayor Pasqual Maragall and then Minister of Public Works Josep Borrell.

On the other hand, the size of the site makes it feasible: it is a building of some 25,000 square meters, double the size of the Hermitage project designed by Toyo Ito. Thirdly, it should be borne in mind that, although it is in the port, access to the Moll d'Espanya is not via Avinguda Joan de Borbó, which according to the studies commissioned by the City Council cannot accommodate any more tourists. Instead, it is accessed from the Rambla and Passeig de Colom. Finally, this public project would help to revitalise a languishing area: the Maremagnum shopping centre has several vacant commercial spaces and the Cinesa multiplex also closed in 2015.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu has been looking for years for a 900-seat complementary space for smaller-format operas and concerts, an alternative to the 2,300-seat theatre on La Rambla. In 2017, the Teatre Principal was already considered as a possibility (a few weeks ago a private project to create exhibition halls and theatre there was presented). Then it used the Hermitage project as an opportunity to reopen the debate, in alliance with private developers. And now the possibility of taking over the Imax building is opening up. The great difficulty, however, will be to determine the economic viability of the project, which is financed by the taxpayer.

This move would practically bury the Hermitage project, which dates back to early 2012 and has already entered a complex phase of legal proceedings that is expected to go on for a long time. In October its promoters said at the same time that they wanted to stay in Barcelona and that they had begun talks with Malaga to install the museum there. At the Nova Bocana site where the Hermitage wanted to build its museum branch, the City Council has already planned the relocation of the Faculty of Nautical Studies.