An emergency plan has been drawn up to try to save a landmark comedy venue from closure after it revealed it was struggling with massive debts.

Accountants for Komedia, in Brighton, have written to 77 firms and organisations it owes a combined £319,944 to, in an attempt to negotiate a settlement to keep it open.

Community leaders yesterday described the club as a crucial part of the city which needed to be saved at all costs.

The Gardner Street venue has hosted dozens of top music and comedy acts including Arctic Monkeys, Graham Norton, The Mighty Boosh, Johnny Vegas and Alistair McGowan and has been hailed as a major factor in the regeneration of the North Laine area.

Komedia’s directors will meet its creditors in a fortnight to try to broker a deal.

They are offering to pay 33p for every pound they owe over a three-year period. For the deal to go ahead they need agreements from debtors who are due a combined 75% of the total.

If the terms are not accepted Komedia could be forced into liquidation.

Among debtors are dozens of local firms including tradesmen, food and drink suppliers, arts groups, magazines and community newsletters which carried adverts for the venue.

Richard Daws, one of Komedia’s six directors, said: “It is important for us to make clear we are still trading as usual, we are busier than ever and selling out most events. We have just been named the best comedy venue in the South for the seventh year running. We are continuing to operate but we are trying to establish a way we can move forward as a business.”

He said Komedia had been plunged into crisis by the abrupt withdrawal of a £150,000-a year Arts Council grant last April.

The cut left the venue with difficulty meeting its overheads at a time when it was dealing with the cost of a £1 million revamp and extension which Mr Daws said the Arts Council had encouraged.

Mr Daws said: “We accept we may have been too reliant on the grant money. We have now made cuts to senior staff and have worked out a viable business plan which has been agreed with our bank.”

At the time of the funding cut a spokeswoman for Arts Council England South East said the Komedia had not been “fulfilling its role as an Arts Council regularly funded organisation.”

Businesses owed money spoke of their disappointment at how they had been treated by an organisation they had trusted. However, several said they would not like to see Komedia go under. One, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “There’s a lot of goodwill towards the place but it will be difficult for people to trust them after this. A lot of these debts are owed to small firms who will really feel the impact.”

Simon Fanshawe, the chairman of Brighton and Hove’s Economic Partnership, said action needed to be taken to stabilise the club.

He said: "This is a crucial business to Brighton and Hove. It's a key part of the cultural offer and it's a key part of North Laine, which is one of the city's main draws.

"It's very important that we do everything we can to make sure they have access to credit and to give them help in everyway we can to get their business model working properly."

He was backed by Ian Davey, who represents North Laine on Brighton and Hove City Council, who said: "Komedia is a much loved venue which makes an invaluable contribution to the city and has a much need civilising impact on the night time economy."

Before the slump into debt Komedia had been hailed as one of the city's best success stories. The club had risen from being run in a small premises in Manchester Street in Kemp Town into its current site and opened a second branch in Bath last November.

Mr Daws said the Brighton and Bath venues were separate operations and the problems would not affect the new site.