Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Facelift for Leicester Square's North Side; MOVE TO REBUILD AREA AS ENTERTAINMENT'S JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Facelift for Leicester Square's North Side; MOVE TO REBUILD AREA AS ENTERTAINMENT'S JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Article excerpt

Byline: ROSS LYDALL;MIRA BAR-HILLEL

SOME of the biggest names in theatre and cinema are involved in discussions to change the face of Leicester Square.

Theatrical impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh, film director Ridley Scott and French-Canadian theatrical circus troupe Cirque du Soleil have been in talks with Westminster council.

The Evening Standard revealed in September that the council was planning to revitalise the square. Now Westminster believes the key is a major reconstruction of the north side and the introduction of new tenants.

This could involve a "high-quality hotel" or Las Vegas-style casino hotel. A council spokesman said: "Hotels are among the desirable elements that would sit well on the site."

Other options include a base for Cirque du Soleil, which already spends more than a month each year at the Royal Albert Hall for its sell-out shows.

Planning consultants Edaw are drawing up a "blue-skies thinking" vision for the square. Council leaders will then attempt to persuade major landowners to commit themselves to this by agreeing to demolish or refurbish properties when their tenancies come to an end.

New tenants would be high-profile organisations suited to Westminster's aim to make Leicester Square the "jewel in the crown" of the British entertainment industry.

The square's seven cinemas already host 50 premieres a year, but it has a poor image and is blighted by touts, pickpockets and other petty crime at night.

The Hippodrome is redrawing its plans after it was rejected in January, while the council has prepared guidelines for rebuilding the Swiss Centre.

Conservative council leader Simon Milton said: "The only way to change things is to have co-operation and encourage developers to develop because there is something in it for them.

"If we look at the buildings there, how much higher can they go? …

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