THE Abbey Theatre is planning to demolish its home and rebuild a new performance space with three stages and a rooftop restaurant.
The national theatre has confirmed it purchased a neighbouring office block for €1.5m last week which will allow it to develop a far larger theatre on its current site, home to the theatre for more than 50 years.
The news ends a decade of speculation about the Abbey's future. Moves to the Docklands, Parnell Square and most recently the GPO had all been on the cards at one stage.
But yesterday director Fiach Mac Conghail said the board had approved the purchase of the adjacent 15-17 Eden Quay building and would begin planning for a new building, although these plans would not proceed in the short term.
"We have knocked on the head that the Abbey is moving anywhere and the key for us was to secure the future of the Abbey in the area," he said.
"The main constraints (with the current building) are that it's very cramped. There's no backstage or storage, and I'm renting rehearsal space across the city. We have health and safety and access issues, and had to install a lift in the Peacock at a cost of €80,000 last year.
"We will eventually knock down our own building and build a new theatre. We're pragmatic.
"Once we get an architect on board, we will look at the site we have and shift the orientation of the Abbey onto the river, which is a huge opportunity.
"We will need to put a finance and design plan together, and would hope for private support from Ireland and the US."
A theatre has been on the Abbey Street site since 1834, and the current building -- designed by architect Michael Scott -- opened in 1966 but is outdated and unsuited to modern needs.
Purchasing the Eden Quay building, which was for sale for €12m at the height of the boom, means there is room to expand.
The ambitious plans include three separate stages -- up from the current two -- which would accommodate audiences of 600, 300 and 100. A bookshop, cafe, rehearsal space, bigger backstage facilities and a rooftop restaurant overlooking the River Liffey are also included.
The building is not listed, but the facade would have to be retained.
The deal comes after last year's decision that the theatre should remain on its current site. A move to the GPO was ruled out because it would cost €293m to relocate to O'Connell Street, and €400,000 has been spent on feasibility studies identifying alternative sites.
The Eden Quay building was mooted as a possible solution in 2006, but ruled out because it was too small.
Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan said the purchase of the office building, which was financed from the Abbey's own resources, was a welcome move.
"After years of speculation, I consider that the long term location of the Abbey Theatre is now absolutely settled. The Abbey Street location is now, and will be for the future, the home of the National Theatre," he said.
"I believe that the fundraising focus of the Abbey must now be on delivering the maximum amount of private support possible to allow for development to take place on this site over time."
The Abbey has recently established a US foundation to help raise money. The company hopes the Government might consider providing finance as part of the Easter 1916 centenary celebrations, as many Abbey actors and employees were involved in the Rising.