Could a deal at last be on the cards for a city arts complex?

A DEAL to bring to life the centrepiece of a culture quarter for Southampton after more than two years of delays is hanging on the decision of a bunch of shareholders on Monday.

They could give the green light to developers City Lofts to sign an agreement next month to turn the long empty Tyrell and Green department store in Above Bar into a £13.1m arts complex flanked by apartment towers.

It is hoped the centre will become a thriving attraction for the south coast.

City Lofts, which specialises in transforming old buildings into stylish city centre apartments, were poised to sign last month but told Southampton City Council it needed more time to finalise the deal after plans to delist the group from the stockmarket were announced.

Shareholders will decide on Monday whether to sell up to a Luxembourg company.

The art centre scheme was dreamt up six years ago and the budget has since swelled by £5m.

The new arts complex will make an enormous contribution to the vitality of the city centre, and will enrich the lives of people in and around Southampton."

Richard Russell, director of external relations and development for Arts Council England South East

It was originally due to open last year but will now not see any visitors until 2011.

The project has been hit with problems. The lead developer pulled out and there were scheme revisions. The arts council reviewed whether to fund it.

The agreement with City Lofts is key to allow the Arts Council to release £5.75m for the project.

The city council is also waiting on SEEDA, the regional development agency, agreeing to pay £1.5m for improvements to Northern Above Bar, including Guildhall Square.

It will allow the council to move its own cash to the arts centre.

Lib Dem council leader Adrian Vinson said developers were "fully committed to the site".

Yet Cllr Vinson admitted there would be a "big question mark" over the project if SEEDA pulled out.

He added: "I'm optimistic they are serious about wanting to facilitate the acceleration of this development and the cultural quarter."

The arts complex will be flanked by two modern apartment towers with basement parking.

The centre will fill the ground and first floor with a restaurant and facilities for professional performers, artists and film makers.

The University of Southampton's John Hansard Gallery is also set to move in.

Richard Russell, director of external relations and development for Arts Council England South East, told the Echo: "The new arts complex will make an enormous contribution to the vitality of the city centre, and will enrich the lives of people in and around Southampton.

"Arts Council England, South East is committed to that vision, which is why we are investing £5.75 million in the venue.

"We are delighted to be a part of the project, and look forward to seeing the vision become a reality."

However, the arts council has withdrawn funding for a performing arts group.

Plans for the centre are now expected to be submitted in the summer.

Consultants also need to be appointed to raise £1.6 million in sponsorship.

The arts centre is now expected to be completed by 2011.

Councillors have launched a feasibility study into transforming the old courthouse at the Civic Centre into a heritage centre. It comes after alternative sites such as the Waterfront and lower High Street were ditched as too costly and unworkable.

The decision by the police to move out of the Civic Centre to new headquarters in 2008 has made it the front runner to house the heritage centre.

It would occupy the former magistrates' court and Southampton police station, featuring a "Story of Southampton" exhibition.

It could also host an anniversary Titanic exhibition in 2012.

Cash to pay for the £10m project would come from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Lib Dem Cabinet member for culture Cllr Steve Sollitt said the Grade II listed court was more likely to attract financial support.

"It's the most deliverable option on the table", he said, admitting frustration at the pace of progress.

He said three developers were being invited to come up with an "outline concept" by April.

l The former magistrates' court has opened to the public for the first time to host an art exhibition. Kuba, an award winning exhibition by Turner prize nominated Kutlug Ataman reveals the lives of 40 residents from one of the most impenetrable ghettos of Istanbul, Turkey.

Old TVs will be spread throughout the court room to tell their stories The exhibition runs until to next Saturday, organised by John Hansard Gallery at the University of Southampton.

Southern Daily Echo editor Ian Murray has suggested the law courts be used to display more of the city's £130m art collection.

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