A NORTH-EAST arts centre which made headlines more for the debts it ran up than the productions it staged has begun a new era.

With a clean slate and a fresh bill of health, the once-troubled Arc, in Stockton, officially reopened on Saturday.

The Dovecot Street centre opened in January 1999, at a cost of £9.5m, but closed two years later after the Arts Council refused to give it further subsidies to stop money leaking from the venture.

Critics of the original Arc team said the venue had failed due to obscure programming, poor marketing and an unsuitable location.

However, the consortium of local businessmen which has taken over the venture said it will learn from the mistakes with line-ups heavily reliant on local talent.

Director Kevin Parker said: "There is nothing we can do about the location of the building, but there has been an entertainment venue of some description there for the past 80 years or so.

"However, we do intend to put more community-based programmes on and to work more with education groups.

"Since we first opened the doors in June, we have seen hundreds of people pass through and I think it has really captured their imaginations.

"It has been a tremendous success so far, and if the past few months are anything to go by it will continue to do so. We have a full season and I am having to turn groups away as we cannot fit them in.

"The future certainly looks bright. "

The theatre has reopened after a one-off £250,000 payment from the Arts Council North-East.

Its £400,000 annual running costs will be funded by the Arts Council and Stockton Borough Council.

Councillor Alex Cunningham, the council's cabinet member for education, leisure and cultural services, said: "The reopening of Arc presents the community of the borough and the whole Tees Valley with a magnificent opportunity to get involved in a wide range of activity, and I hope to see the many people who attended in the past returning, as well as many thousands more."