Plans are being considered for an overhaul of an Aberdeen gig venue, which has been a stop on early tours for some of music’s biggest acts.
Before finding global fame and fortune, artists including Radiohead, Lewis Capaldi, The Libertines and Emeli Sande have all taken to The Lemon Tree stage – which has become an established part of the national touring circuit.
Very early work to map out redevelopment to see the 1930s building well into the future has begun – with options expected to be spelled out to Aberdeen Performing Arts (APA) bosses by New Year.
As they guided the charity, which also runs the A-listed His Majesty’s Theatre (HMT) and Aberdeen Music Hall, through 18 months of coronavirus-prompted closure, leaders also went back to the drawing board for the intimate West North Street venue.
Potential redevelopment of The Lemon Tree tied to the £150m Queen’s Square project
Now, a feasibility study is underway to decide on the scale of the redevelopment – and, importantly, put a price tag on the ambition.
It comes as £150 million plans for a massive revamp of the Queen Street area – billed by council chiefs as a cultural and residential quarter called Queen’s Square.
The council’s land acquisition for the huge project has already prompted police to leave their soon-to-be-bulldozed Aberdeen headquarters for a new station in nearby Marischal College and other sites across the city.
Aberdeen University is another organisation looking to add to the cultural offering in the reimagined district, as the ancient institution considers potentially reopening the long-missed Marischal Museum and other uses for lesser used parts of the historic Marischal College.
APA chief executive, Jane Spiers, said: “It is very early days. Within our previous business plan our ambition was to deliver the Music Hall redevelopment.
“But we had always anticipated that once that project was done and dusted, we would move on to look at the Lemon Tree.
“It was built in the 1930s, has not had any significant work done for a very long time and so just in terms of a duty of care, we feel it needs a little more than just ongoing essential repairs and maintenance.
“Added to that, we wanted to be very much at the heart of proposals for Queen Street.
“The Lemon Tree is a very successful venue in the city that has a reputation going way beyond Aberdeen, so the plan is to secure a future for it in the years to come.”
She added that charity had met the low cost of the feasibility study but would come back to the council when their options – and costs involved – are clearer for the venue, which has also welcomed famed comedians, stage shows and other artists.
Aberdeen Performing Arts fully staffed after 18 long months of Covid disruption
Ms Spiers also reflected on her charity’s struggles through the pandemic, which forced their doors closed and resulted in only 12 staff staying on while scores more were furloughed.
Both APA‘s A-listed venues, the Music Hall and HMT, were hit by flooding last summer.
Repairs have been made to their roofs, with flooring replaced due to water damage.
Meanwhile, financial forecasting remains difficult as much of APA’s income is dependent on ticket sales, which Ms Spiers said were “very unpredictable” at present.
“We would be hoping to get back to at least pre-pandemic levels within the next few months and because we have such a strong programme over the next 18 months – all the shows we managed to retain, that were cancelled, in addition to all the new shows we are plugging into 2022 and 2023,” she said.
“We are really optimistic about audiences returning, although they are not at pre-pandemic levels but they are certainly as good as we could hope for at this time.
“We had nearly 250 staff on furlough for the last 18 months; they are now back at work.”