The Mayflower Theatre is being lined up to take over the former Nuffield Southampton Theatres, which had been facing permanent closure after its former management went into administration.
The Mayflower Theatre Trust runs Southampton’s major commercial receiving venue, the 2,300-seat Mayflower, and has now been selected as the preferred operator for Studio 144, home to NST City’s 450-seat main house and smaller studio theatre.
Southampton City Council, a key stakeholder, confirmed that it is now working with the Mayflower as a potential operator for Studio 144.
Michael Ockwell, chief executive of the Mayflower Theatre Trust, said plans for the organisation centre around the development of "a creative hub that puts the community at the very heart of its operation".
He added that he hoped Studio 144 could reopen "in the near future".
Satvir Kaur, who is the council’s cabinet member for homes and culture, said she believed the Mayflower would provide an opportunity to "find a sustainable cultural solution that benefits our communities and the city".
A statement from the council said that a formal announcement about the space’s future would follow "in due course", but described the current situation as "a hugely positive step forward for Southampton".
The Southampton Nuffield Theatre Trust, which operated NST City and NST Campus – now closed for refurbishment – went into administration in May, with administrators blaming financial difficulties that had been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a result of its closure, more than 80 staff were made redundant.
An initial round of applications to take over NST City was held in June, however despite receiving more than 30 expressions of interest and subsequently three potential buyers, administrators said none had satisfied the conditions of the theatre’s stakeholders – Southampton City Council and Arts Council England.
It is not known how many bidders entered applications when a second round opened this month.
One other, Icarus Theatre Collective, went public with its bid to operate the venue, however earlier this week confirmed that it had been told by the council its proposals had been rejected.
The council’s statement added: "All applications were carefully considered against pre-set evaluation criteria, agreed between key stakeholders and used in the assessment rounds. We greatly appreciate each applicant’s interest in Southampton and the work they undertook to go through the evaluation process."
It had previously been confirmed Arts Council England had ring fenced £1.9 million to "reimagine" culture in Southampton, however it is not yet clear how this will be spent in relation to Nuffield.
At the time of the theatre’s closure, Phil Gibby, the Arts Council’s area director for the South West, said its collapse had been "the culmination of a number of problems over the past couple of years that the organisation has ultimately been unable to resolve".
Gibby said the body was now "extremely pleased that an applicant has emerged" to takeover the theatre.
"We look forward to continuing to work with Southampton City Council as part of our ongoing commitment to arts and culture in the city, as well as engaging with the Mayflower Theatre Trust in further conversations," he said.