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Waikato theatre site choice prompts donations, bouquets and parking questions 14 July, 2017

It's central, it's unexpected, it has river views - but where will we park?

Wednesday's announcement of the former Hamilton Hotel as the suggested site for a new Waikato theatre has got the region talking.

The project to replace the mothballed Founders Theatre is a partnership between philanthropic organisation Momentum Waikato and the Hamilton City Council.

The next update on the theatre is due to Hamilton City councillors on August 24.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

The next update on the theatre is due to Hamilton City councillors on August 24.

Since work started in July 2016, international expertise from Charcoalblue has been flown in, and the creative community has been waiting for the result.

A donation arrived less than half an hour after the announcement about the central city site, Momentum Waikato chair Leonard Gardner said.

There are about 2000 car parks within 250m of the site, Gardner said.
SUPPLIED

There are about 2000 car parks within 250m of the site, Gardner said.

It was in the thousands and more people have pushed "donate now" since then, he said, adding that his phone was full of text messages from people pleased with the site.

Gardner knows parking is "a big one for people", but said there are plenty of street-side spots and nearby parking buildings.

"My calculation is that we've got about 2000 car parks within 250m of the site. There won't be a huge number onsite." 

A donation arrived less than half an hour after the announcement about the central city site, Momentum Waikato chair ...
MARK TAYLOR Stuff NZ

A donation arrived less than half an hour after the announcement about the central city site, Momentum Waikato chair Leonard Gardner, right, said. He's pictured with Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel chair Julian Elder. 

Proposing a location is a critical step and the choice surprised many, Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel chair Julian Elder said.

"One of the comments we got back was, gosh, hadn't thought of that site. That's really great," he said.

The panel is looking at how to keep the theatre site lively even when shows aren't on - for example, through hospitality or perhaps spaces for someone to play the piano or stage a one-man show.

The Hamilton Hotel site has historically been a hub for the city. This photo was taken in the 1940s and is part of the ...
Bruce Mercer

The Hamilton Hotel site has historically been a hub for the city. This photo was taken in the 1940s and is part of the Hamilton City Council collection.

And Gardner said a footbridge between the central city and Hamilton East has been talked about before through Hamilton City Council's River Plan.

"If it can be achieved, this becomes a bit of an access point for that," he said.

The Hamilton Hotel site also connects the past and future, Gardner said, as the first hotel was built in the year Hamilton was established.

That spot delivers what the arts community asked for, Creative Waikato chief executive Sarah Nathan said - a new building in a location that connects the theatre with hospitality areas.

That was the main message from her organisation's consultation with the creative community and users of the theatre.

"In that respect, I just think it's perfect ... I think it could have a massive impact on the regeneration of the inner city."

When more detailed information is released, the creative community will be looking for an adaptable theatre that can deliver for events from orchestra concerts to graduation ceremonies, she said.

There is a voice of dissent in the creative community, however. The Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O'Brien wants more information on the cost.

Founders' site is more logical, he said, because it's council-owned, available, has ample parking and easier access.

"Hamilton's not that big, for goodness' sake. To get to the Founders is just around the corner."

But Hamilton needs "a grown-up theatre", he said, and he was perhaps playing devil's advocate.

The next bundle of theatre information will go to Hamilton City councillors on August 24.

"We'll give you the design, we'll give you the business case for it, we'll give you the structure in terms of ownership, in terms of operating, and costings around that," Gardner said.

The theatre will have similar seating capacity to Founders' - 1249 - but the plan is to cater for events which couldn't happen at the old theatre, including the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

"We wouldn't have put it in front of the public if we thought the site would work from a size perspective."

The concept so far is fantastic, Hamilton Mayor Andrew King said.

"Let's face it - we all want to go out for a coffee or a drink before we go to the theatre, and we want to go out for dinner afterwards. And it's going to bring 1200 people into the city centre to do that ... but we've now got a lot of money to raise to make it all happen."

Other Hamilton City councillors were quick to share the news on social media.

Angela O'Leary said it was the perfect space, with beautiful river views, and Paula Southgate was excited about how it could complement the River Plan.

Story from Stuff.co.nz

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