Oxford City Council set to invest £37m to transform city centre cinema into new community hub and much-needed aparthotel

Published: Monday, 3rd July 2023

Oxford City Council is set to invest £37m to transform a city centre cinema into a new community hub and much-needed aparthotel.

The lease on 38-40 George Street, which currently operates as an Odeon cinema, runs out in September 2024.

Since September 2022, the City Council has been carrying out a procurement exercise to find the best use for site over the coming years.

The highest scoring proposal will see the building demolished and redeveloped, with community space on the ground floor and an aparthotel on the upper five floors.

The £37m new building would meet modern building standards – significantly reducing its environmental impact – and feature windows on all sides instead of the large blank walls of the existing building, so it will improve the atmosphere in Gloucester Green.

The proposal also includes social value commitments through the construction and lease term, including apprenticeships for Oxford youngsters and paying all staff at least the Oxford Living Wage, including to those working at the aparthotel.

Odeon did not submit a proposal during the procurement process.

The City Council’s Cabinet will meet on 12 July to discuss the highest scoring proposal and sign off the £37m transformation of the site.

If Cabinet approves the scheme, the City Council will begin work to seek planning permission for the redevelopment.

The new operator of the community hub and aparthotel will be revealed later this summer.

New community space

The proposed scheme will see a vibrant new community hub created on the ground floor of the building.

The scheme includes opportunities for entertainment and artwork within the community hub, and could see a new café created.

Crucially, the proposed hub will feature affordable, hireable space for community groups and social enterprises in the heart of the city centre, and will operate throughout the day and into the evening. There will be public consultation on the hub to make sure it meets the needs of residents and other people interested in the use of the space.

The proposal will also see new windows installed around the ground floor, creating the possibility of dining and other activities in Gloucester Green.

Oxford City Council’s City Centre Action Plan highlights the lack of community gathering spaces and live performance spaces in Oxford city centre.

New aparthotel

The proposal will see an aparthotel featuring about 145 rooms built on the upper five stories of the new building, with a reception on the ground floor and lounge and bar/café.

Aparthotels offer visitors more room than typical hotels. They are usually fully-furnished apartments, with an en-suite kitchen featuring a cooker and fridge.

Aparthotels are used by a wide range of visitors and tourists, alongside workers employed on short-term projects or shows in a city.

Oxford City Council’s City Centre Action Plan aims to encourage more hotels to open in Oxford city centre to boost the city centre’s economy.

A 2015 report from Experience Oxfordshire found that those staying overnight spent, on average, about 1.5 times more than those on day trips.

However, the report found that only 17% of the 6.6m who visited Oxford each year stayed overnight, with 83% of visitors being day trippers.

The proposed new aparthotel would be perfectly placed in George Street, with easy access to the city centre’s shops, restaurants, bars and theatres. It is a much better accommodation model than seeing family homes in Oxford lost to “Airbnb”-style lettings.

The proposal will also see new windows installed across the currently blank façades, which will provide new oversight of Gloucester Green at night.

Next steps

If the City Council’s Cabinet approves the £37m transformation, the new contract and lease could be signed in August or September.

The aim would then be to secure planning permission for the new building by summer 2024.

Demolition and construction is expected to take about three years, with the new community hub and aparthotel opening in 2027.

The new operator will have a 40-year lease on the building.

Although the City Council will invest £37m to transform 38-40 George Street, the proposal will generate significant income for the City Council, which will be used to help fund frontline services such as youth clubs, community centres and grants for community organisations.

Oxford’s cinemas

Oxford City Council invited Odeon to engage with the procurement process, but the cinema operator did not submit a proposal.

Given Odeon has also chosen to close its cinema in Magdalen Street, this will mean both Odeon cinemas in Oxford city centre will close.

However, Oxford is still well served by cinemas, with the Curzon at Westgate Oxford, Vue at the Kassam Stadium, Phoenix Picturehouse in Walton Street and Ultimate Picture Palace in Cowley Road.

For comparison, Cambridge has three cinemas and York has four.

The City Council has informed Odeon of the outcome of the procurement process, and the cinema operator will remain a tenant in 38-40 George Street until September 2024.

Once-in-a-generation development

“This is a once-in-a-generation redevelopment of one of Oxford city centre’s iconic buildings.

“We are extremely excited to see the building transformed to provide a new community hub in the heart of Oxford city centre. It is unfortunate that Odeon has announced the closure of their cinema in Magdalen Street, and we hope they may reconsider this decision. 

“The aparthotel will also encourage more overnight stays in Oxford city centre, providing a significant boost to hospitality businesses, particularly George Street’s theatres, restaurants and bars, and it will provide valuable income to support frontline services such as youth workers and grants to voluntary sector organisations.”

Councillor Ed Turner, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council