Last-minute delays with the completion certificate have again thwarted Shetland Arts’ plan to open Mareel this week for its first-ever concerts and public film screenings.
The latest frustration is due to a failure to satisfy the remaining requirements of Shetland Islands Council’s building standards team. A list of outstanding matters was issued to the arts agency on Wednesday, one of which is understood to relate to the fire alarm system.
The council’s head of planning Iain McDiarmid said yesterday he expected to receive the outstanding information from Shetland Arts “imminently”, which would clear the way for the £12 million entertainments complex to open. “As soon as we get it we will be dealing with it,” he said.
The breakthrough – if it comes – is too late for local promoter Klub Revolution which is set to lodge a compensation claim for up to £10,000 from Shetland Arts. It comes after Mareel was unable to stage what should have been the first event tomorrow – a night of hard dance music with superstar DJ Kutski.
Alan McLeod of Klub Revolution said he was “bitterly disappointed” when it was confirmed on Wednesday that the venue
was not going to be ready despite assurances given “at every juncture” by Mareel management when he was planning the event.
He has been able to relocate to the Hamnavoe Hall in Burra at considerable loss and inconvenience, he said yesterday. “It’s been a busy 12 hours and a hell of a lot of work.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that builders DITT are still owed a six-figure sum of money by Shetland Arts which it had withheld due to a dispute over technical contractual issues. Recently an arbitrator ruled that the arts agency must hand the payment over.
The issue was not denied yesterday by DITT director Peter Tait although he declined to go into detail. But he said it had not affected preparations for opening Mareel with Shetland Arts having had control of the building for several weeks to fit it out.
Only a small amount of work remained to be done by DITT yesterday and today, he said, and the company was “keen to get
the building off our hands as quickly as possible”.
Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons was not available to comment and give an update on the remaining problems as we went to press.
There is some concern that what is now scheduled as the first concert – Tuesday’s visit by US alternative country singer Devon Sproule – may have to move to the Garrison Theatre. Promoter Neil Riddell said the event would go ahead whether or not Mareel was available.
The last-minute problems and cancellations generate the kind of organisational headaches and bad publicity that Mareel and Shetland Arts do not need right now as they seek community support for the controversial £12.2 million venue and cinema.
Mr McLeod said the visit by Radio 1’s DJ Kutski had been sold to the artiste on the basis that he would be among the first to play in a prestigious brand-new venue, not in a small rural hall – although he emphasised his gratitude to the Hamnavoe hall committee for moving mountains to host his event at the last minute. He said the DJ had agreed to the transfer but some of those who had bought tickets want refunds.
“What should have been a fairly profitable gig for us which would have got us off to a good start with Mareel has now turned into a complete and utter headache.
“I can’t believe that what seem to be fairly minor faults with the building couldn’t be repaired before this weekend. The snagging list just seems to go on and on.”
It is not the first time that broken promises from Mareel have let Klub Revolution down. Last year it had to reschedule a gig by former Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder, switching it out of Shetland altogether.
There is a suspicion among some people that following the failure last Saturday to host a folk gig by Blazing Fiddles, the arts agency was reluctant to have a raucous rave-type event as the first-ever event in the venue.
Shetland Arts blamed “snagging” for preventing that concert, which went ahead in the Garrison as originally planned. Mr Gibbons said the building “didn’t reach practical completion”.
In its latest cancellation announcement on Wednesday, Shetland Arts apologised to ticket holders and Klub Revolution. It continued: “Full practical completion of Mareel is imminent and we expect to put tickets on sale for films and other events in the next couple of weeks. Please check the Shetland Arts website and the Shetland Box Office for updates.”
Mareel has taken over three years to build and was meant to open in spring last year. Slower progress led to a proposed completion date of April this year, which was pushed back to late May after extra work was asked for. Since then a string of delays and missed deadlines has led to mounting frustration for those eager to start enjoying the new building.