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Bon Accord boss defends new cinema plan amid fears it could ‘cannibalise’ others

Some reckon a fifth cinema in Aberdeen could over-saturate the market.

It happens to even the best of movie franchises: that one film too far that tarnishes the whole thing.

The most perfectly crafted picture can be tainted by a sub-par sequel, a cash-grabbing third or a poorly plotted prequel.

Could something similar be happening to the movie offering in Aberdeen city centre, with claims an extra cinema would be overkill?

It’s an issue that’s proving as divisive as any of the new Star Wars films.

On Friday we revealed that the Bon Accord Centre had been granted permission to create the new attraction on its upper floor.

Everyone’s a critic…

It didn’t take long for the reviews to come in, and our readers didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet.

With a Vue mere minutes away on Shiprow, one Cineworld not much further afar in Union Square and another at the beach, and the Belmont Filmhouse just a short walk up Schoolhill, people questioned the need for a fifth facility.

Some commented on Facebook to bemoan a “lack of imagination”, saying the city should be offering more diverse attractions.

Others said that four complexes within walking distance were more than enough, and voiced fears for the future profitability of those that have been there for years.

In response to the above comments from our readers on social media, we are asking… Does Aberdeen really need another cinema?

‘It’s not just about the here and now…’

Bon Accord Centre manager, Craig Stevenson, is asking people to take a long-term view on the plans – which have been in production for years.

Craig says the cinema could act as a springboard to attract more leisure offerings to the beleaguered mall – which has taken a pummeling in recent times and has several empty units.

He said: “Shopping centres are changing, and they are going to continue changing at a rapid pace.

“Part of our long-term strategy is looking at how we use the space in the centre, and what that demand is. It’s not just about the here and now.

“We want to move from purely shopping to having more leisure and the cinema is part of that.

“This is about looking at catering to demand over the next decade and more.”

Bon Accord Centre manager Craig Stevenson. Picture by Wullie Marr

Craig added that some cinema operators have already been in touch to express an interest in running the four-screen auditorium.

And the retail boss knocked back complaints that the facility will merely offer “more of the same”.

“We want to create a cinema that is a little bit different to those already in our city”, he added.

“It would still show mainstream movies, but it will be a different experience.

“This would also bring increased footfall, and benefit the shops we have in the Bon Accord Centre.

“It is easy to be critical of individual projects, but we are looking forward and trying to make the city centre a place people can be proud of.”

The new cinema will occupy the former Laura Ashley store.

The project will require an extension at the back of the centre, and some other units being reconfigured.

Belmont Filmhouse boss has say

Many opponents of the new cinema voiced concerns about its impact on the independent Belmont Filmhouse.

The venue’s head of cinema operations, Colin Farquhar, told us some knock-on effect is inevitable.

Colin said: “I was working here before the Cineworld opened in Union Square [in 2009] and it definitely made a difference.

“We lost about 20% of our audience from that point on.

“So everybody would be slightly concerned if there was a fifth cinema quite close by.

“By Scottish standards, Aberdeen already has an over-provision of cinema screens.

“It remains to be seen whether this one would attract other audiences or, if it’s showing the same content, cannibalise those existing sites.”

Colin Farquhar, head of cinema operations at Belmont Filmhouse. Picture by Kenny Elrick

But Colin says this would all depend on the operator that takes on the venue.

He added: “I would worry a bit about something showing releases like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or Parasite – these films with cross-market appeal that really prop up our attendance numbers.

“It depends on who ends up in that space and what content they are showing.”

Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, reckons diversifying is a great way to revive struggling city centres.

He said: “Successful city centres attract people in by offering a thriving mix of retail, hospitality, leisure and cultural activities.

“Investment in new facilities and more consumer choice should be welcomed as part of breathing life back into our city centre.”

Film fans offer mixed response

We chatted to some Granite City movie fans as they made their way into Vue for a screening of Marvel superhero flick Black Widow.

Student Tom Kuluin, 22, only goes to the cinema once every two months or so – and sees no need for an extra option in Aberdeen.

“I’m not desperate for another one, I don’t think it’s important”, he told us.

But Cat Cameron and Will Cook, both 31, were a bit more positive.

Cat said: “I think it sounds quite cool, people visiting the centre to do their shopping could combine it with a trip to the cinema.”

Will added: “In the 80s there were loads of cinemas in Aberdeen, this just feels like a return to how it used to be.”

The forgotten glamour of Aberdeen’s Art Deco cinemas

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