Work has started on Sunderland’s new £11m ‘game-changer’ music and arts venue designed by the architect behind Gateshead’s Sage.

The auditorium is being built on a car park next to the the newly-restored Fire Station on the corner of Garden Place and Dun Cow Street.

It will complement the Fire Station and Empire Theatre as Sunderland’s ‘mid-size’ venue, say MAC trust, which is behind the development.

The venue will be centre of Sunderland’s Music Arts and Cultural Quarter once it opens in spring 2021. The repurposed Fire Station opened last year as a cultural hub and restaurant.

Once open, the auditorium will have retractable seating for 450 people and an 800-spectator standing area.

The Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust secured a £6.25m award from Arts Council England‘s Capital: Large Grants programme, funded by the National lottery.

Paul Callaghan CBE, Chair of the MAC Trust, said: “We’re delighted that work on the auditorium has started and are excited by the transformational effect we’re sure it will have on the city’s arts and culture sector. It will be a game-changer in terms of the cultural offer the city will be able to deliver.

“We’re extremely grateful to Arts Council England for their generous capital grant, and I would also like to thank Sunderland Council who have offered tremendous support during the development stage for this superb new cultural asset for the city.”

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Award-winning architect Jason Flanagan has designed the auditorium. Mr Flanagan was a project director for the Sage in Gateshead. He has also designed  the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and LiveWorks in Newcastle.

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Sunderland construction firm Brims won the contract to build the venue and work is already underway. Brims recently completed the Tombola HQ building on the Sunderland Riverside and the refurbishment of Gilbridge House on Keel Square as headquarters for Hays Travel.

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Once complete, Sunderland Culture will manage and operate the venue.

The new auditorium is the third phase of the MAC Trust’s transformation of the area. The first phase was the award-winning renovation of the historic Dun Cow and Peacock pubs, and the second stage was the transformation of the old Fire Station into a restaurant, heritage centre and dance and drama studios.