But today Aberdeen City Council’s planning authority approved plans to turn the historic Capitol Theatre on Union Street into a £30 million office complex.
The ten storey building will, however, retain the building’s distinctive art deco facade.
James Barrack, the director of developers the Knight Property Group, said: “This is fantastic news, not just for Knight Property Group, but for Aberdeen as a city. Now, we can look forward to restoring and redeveloping this iconic building and breathing some life back into the city centre and the west end of Union Street.
“I firmly believe that we as a city need to offer companies the best commercial property options, otherwise we are in danger of these businesses setting up bases and making investments elsewhere.”
He added: ”We have consulted with Historic Scotland during the planning process to ensure that many of the original art deco features within the building are retained and restored. As part of this, we are also working with the Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust to remove the original Compton Organ carefully, piece by piece, so that it can be recovered, re-homed and displayed to the public at an Aberdeen location.”
A company spokesman said: “Following today’s decision, work will begin immediately on the listed building, which dates back to 1933, for a 2015 completion. Over this 18 month period, The Capitol will be redeveloped to create prime office space covering approximately 70,000 square feet.”
Conservative Councillor Ross Thomson, who represents the Hazlehead/Ashley/Queen’s Cross ward, hailed the approval decision by the Planning Development Management Committee as a tremendous step forward with city centre regeneration.
He said: “For five years the Capitol Theatre has been left empty and derelict. The building has been left to rot, it is an eyesore and quite simply and embarrassment at the heart of our city.Today’s decision to approve the application for redevelopment is great news for the city.”
Mr Thomson added: “The office design itself is modern, contemporary and symbolises that Aberdeen is moving forward with exciting new architecture. We do not have much to show for being the Oil Capital of Europe however developments like this will bring the vitality and electric atmosphere that dynamic cities such as London have.”
Liberal Democrat Martin Greig, one of only two councillors who opposed the redevelopment plans, said: “The opportunity to revitalise and boost the area is welcome but this is a clear case of going too far with an overdevelopment of the site. The glass box on the top of the building will be visible from many angles and will diminish the traditional, granite heritage of the city centre.
“Union Street once had a prestigious air of quality unfortunately this new proposal adds to the decline. It will form an unacceptable clash of old and new styles in the heart of the Granite City.”
The Capitol, designed by renowned architects Marshal Mackenzie, opened in 1933. It was the first cinema in the UK to be designed from the outset to incorporate a full holophane lighting system in the auditorium which allowed up to 17,000 colour combinations to be projected in time to music from a Compton organ, which rose from the orchestra pit.
Councillor Ramsay Milne, the committee’s convener, said: “The Capitol Cinema has been a blight for some time and it has been left to rot for a number of years. This development will preserve an important building. I’m very pleased that the façade is being retained and restored to its former glory.
“The building is a great part of Aberdeen’s heritage and it is important that it is preserved and brought back into use.”
He added: “Large, high-quality office space is in very high demand in the city centre and this development will help to meet that demand, encouraging the regeneration of the area and other developers to come forward with plans to breathe life back into some of the magnificent buildings in the city centre, bringing great economic benefits to the city.”