In a move that has stirred significant controversy in St Andrews, golf legend Tiger Woods and pop star Justin Timberlake recently unveiled plans to transform the New Picture House cinema into a luxury sports and entertainment gastro pub. The proposal has sparked opposition among local residents and defenders of the historic theatre, while others view it as a potential source of revitalization for the town.
At the heart of the proposal lies a comprehensive redesign of the cinema's interior, with the consolidation of its three movie screens into one. In place of traditional theatre amenities, the plan includes the installation of state-of-the-art golf simulators, duckpin bowling lanes, darts, and large-screen televisions catering specifically to sports enthusiasts. This venture marks the second installment of Woods and Timberlake's T-Squared Social concept, part of the portfolio of Nexus Luxury Collection, the global real estate development and hospitality management company behind the bid. Woods and Timberlake are founding members alongside golfer Ernie Els and private investment organization Tavistock Group.
Woods and Timberlake, already familiar faces in St Andrews, have voiced their interest in enhancing the cultural landscape of the town. Woods, an iconic figure in the world of golf, has garnered significant achievements on its historic courses, while Timberlake has made frequent appearances for events relating to the sport.
"We all wanted to bring our T-Squared Social concept here to add to the local community and be a welcoming place for those living in St Andrews and for visitors alike,” Woods stated.
Timberlake, agreeing with this sentiment, said, “I’m honored to be able to invest in the town and bring our second T-Squared Social here. Our new venue is so much more than a typical sports bar experience – it’s a place you can go to be entertained without sacrificing quality or comfort.”
The plan has revealed a stark division of local opinions. On one side, there are those who strongly advocate for preserving the historical and cultural value of the 1930s cinema. They voiced concerns that the proposed changes could erode the town’s character and deprive its residents of accessible cinema experiences. This sentiment is evidenced by a petition initiated by Ash Johann Curry-Machado, a student at the University of St Andrews, which has garnered over 9,186 signatures from concerned community members.
“The New Picture House has been a personal refuge for many, including myself, during our years in St Andrews. We share a common fear for future generations who may be denied the opportunity to experience this cultural hub,” Curry-Machado stated in the petition.
“It's not merely a cinema; it's a part of our identity, a source of pride, and an integral element of our town's fabric. To allow it to fade away would be a disservice to our rich heritage and the generations yet to come.”
Other residents echoed these concerns, contending that the proposal predominantly caters to tourists and is out of sync with the preferences of the local community.
“It’s astonishing a university town loses its cinema to a multi-millionaire celebrity vanity project,” resident Chris Main told The Courier.
On the opposing side, proponents argue that the project could breathe life into the New Picture House and secure its long-term financial viability. David Morris, the cinema’s managing director, is among the proposal’s supporters.
“This unique investment opportunity will secure greater employment opportunities and the long-term future of the venue. We are excited to welcome Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake to St Andrews,” Morris said.
Callum Macleod, a resident who sympathizes with the proposal, contended, "St Andrews is a tourist destination, and the culture has evolved. As times change, so must St Andrews."
Neil Dobson, a local resident and alumnus of the University of St Andrews, said,"The building itself holds a B-listed status. What do the planning regulations permit or prohibit in this case? Does St Andrews truly require a high-end American sports bar? Visitors primarily come here to play golf, and the town has long provided for their post-golf needs. Is an American sports bar with big names associated with it a significant attraction?"
Dobson hypothesized that the eventual result could entail transforming the theater into high-end apartments. He added, "It will be intriguing to observe how this unfolds, possibly more captivating than a round on the Old Course."
Beyond individual viewpoints, this debate transcends the fate of a single cinema – It delves into broader discussions at the crossroads of preserving cultural heritage and fostering economic growth. The final decision now rests with Fife Council planners, whose task is to find a balance between these two spheres.
Image: Sasha Smithie