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Feasibility Plan for Waikato Regional Theatre Unveiled 7 September, 2017

A comprehensive feasibility report for a new Waikato Regional Theatre has been presented to the Hamilton City Council, recommending a river-facing performing arts centre with flexible functionality.

The design proposes a 1,100-seat theatre, shared public spaces and a public art gallery, to be located at the old Hamilton Hotel site on Victoria Street. The new theatre is intended to replace Founders Theatre - closed for safety reasons in March 2016 - and provide an opportunity to utilise the best approaches in modern, multi-functional spaces.

The feasibility report, compiled by international theatre consultants Charcoalblue, was presented to Hamilton City Council’s Mayor and councillors on 24 August by Momentum Waikato Community Foundation Chair Leonard Gardner, Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel Chair Dr Julian Elder and representatives from Charcoalblue.

Dr Elder says the theatre is much more than a replacement for Founders Theatre. “We need a modern-day theatre and we’re lucky that modern-day theatre design offers so much scope. We’ve used every opportunity here to build a world-class theatre, the best possible for the broader Waikato region.”

 

The brief for the new Waikato Regional Theatre

Following Hamilton City Council last year agreeing in principle to spend up to $30 million towards a new performing arts centre, Momentum Waikato and the Council commissioned Charcoalblue to run the process.

Dr Elder says the brief from the creative community was for a distinguished venue to attract the very best, and most inspiring world-class performing artists to the city. “As a community, we want a catalyst for inspiration and pathways into the creative sector. This theatre proposal meets all our needs and can do it in a way that makes it feel as though the space was specifically designed just for that purpose or genre.”

Consultation made it clear that a new venue had to meet several challenges in order to satisfy everyone’s needs, Dr Elder says.

“The consultation period brought out several continuing themes and perhaps the most compelling and inspirational pathway was found in the idea of a ‘creative precinct’, which opens the door to opportunity not just for the thousands of people in the Waikato’s theatrical community but the community as a whole.” Dr Elder says the proposal is envisaged as enhancing the urban fabric of Hamilton and creating opportunities for the surrounding

districts and towns. Mr Gardner says the project meets the needs of the city and region “by offering an exciting opportunity to create a new, vibrant, creative precinct for our city - one that will help transform the city centre and inspire the local and wider community”.

 

The design of the new theatre

The new Waikato Regional Theatre has been designed as a top performing and visual arts hub that will co-exist with a proposed separate, privately developed lifestyle art hotel, public art gallery and retail space, allowing for shared spaces for meetings, conferences and events.

The cost of incorporating the hotel, gallery and retail spaces are not included in the Momentum Waikato recommendation, as these will be developed privately, but sharing facilities with these provides many synergies and economies of scale.

Says Mr Gardner: “The study tells us there’s an opportunity for innovative use of resources and 24/7 activation of space between a lifestyle art hotel and a neighbouring theatre. We’d plan to share some functions and floor area with the hotel development such as kitchens, sponsors’ rooms and multifunctional rooms which could be used for conferences or rehearsals, for example.”

The theatre would be an energy efficient build and would be at the heart of a creative precinct with outdoor courtyards, a strong link between the theatre, the river and its environment, including the nearby Waikato Museum. It would have dual access from Embassy Park (home of the Riff-Raff statue) on one side and Sapper Moore-Jones Place (formerly Marlborough Place) on the other.

The theatre’s strong connection with the Waikato River provides an obvious access point for a new pedestrian bridge across the river, as investigated in the Hamilton City Council CBD Transformation and River plans.

 

Costings for project

Mr Gardner says the estimate to build the theatre is $72.9 million and includes a 20% contingency, which he hopes is not necessary but says is sensible, given the high levels of uncertainty in the current construction market.

He says initial cost estimates covered only the delivery of a new theatre without the community spaces and river activation proposed in the new development. “This feasibility

study provides a new future-proofed design for a true, high-end performing arts centre of a calibre that this region deserves,” says Mr Gardner. “It’s multi-functional and we understand will be unique in Australasia.”

Mr Gardner says the building cost and specialist theatre fit-out costs are benchmarked against the recent ASB Waterfront Theatre project at Wynyard Quarter in Auckland’s CBD. The estimates include an extra $1.2 million for the deep pilings needed on the 5,395m2 site, which is common for all major CBD structures in Hamilton, whether located on the riverbank or elsewhere.

 

Proposed lifestyle art hotel

The site overlooks the river and currently contains restaurants and bars. The existing property owners would look to include a lifestyle art hotel alongside other commercial activities alongside the theatre development project. The hotel would restore the original façade and some internal elements of the old Hamilton Hotel, which is recognised as a

heritage building. “As the property owner, we are fully supportive of the theatre concept being proposed, and we looking forward to contributing to the theatre, and supporting commercial development to enhance the theatre and city transformation,” says family spokesman Mitch Plaw.

Contributions towards the project The Charcoalblue report estimates that design processes and resource consent for the new theatre would take place in 2018, with final detailed designs ready in 2019. The theatre would be expected to open in 2021.

 

Funding of $30 million for the theatre is planned to come from local councils, a further $30 million from generous families and organisations in the Waikato region, and $10 million from central government.

 

Mr Gardner says Hamilton city and other councils will be getting excellent value for money for their $30 million. “This theatre proposal would give us a new creative precinct to deliver a wealth of cultural, artistic, tourism and economic benefits to the entire region,” he says.

Many generous families and organisations have already indicated significant support for the Waikato Regional Theatre, even before seeing plans or images.

 

Mr Gardner believes the community understands the transformational change this project can bring to the region. “We’ve heard from many generous individuals and organisations keen to make the theatre a reality, but the project requires the entire community to be generous and work together. We encourage all generous people willing to invest in future generations to help us get the project across the line,” he says.

He paid tribute to the original private backers of Founders Theatre, and the city council at the time, in enabling that space to be built. “They were brave and knew they had to build world-class at the time. We’ve done it once, now we need to do it again.”

Other points of note:

• The theatre is designed to be flexible and adaptable to ensure the best user and

audience experience.

• It will be a multi-purpose theatre, able to hold intimate, small-scale works with spoken

words through to youth kapa haka performances and full orchestral and ballet

performances.

• Although designed as a world-class theatre, the WRT will be available for community

use at discounted rates to all sectors, not just the art sectors.

• Technical needs for the theatre have been discussed with user groups and tour

promoters, but more consultation will take place during detailed planning.

• The report shows the site is close to about 2,200 car parks and residential parking zones (compared with the 436 parks near to Founders Theatre).

• There is potential for multiple entrances with the primary pedestrian access from

Embassy Plaza, and for drop-off, truck and site parking access from Sapper Moore Jones Place.

• Community feedback will take place via Momentum Waikato and Hamilton City

Council in September and October, seeking thoughts on all aspects of the project.

• It’s recommended a Waikato Regional Property Trust is created to own and maintain the WRT asset, and a Waikato Regional Theatre Operating Company is created to run the theatre operations. This is designed to provide separation between ownership and operation. The trust and company will be owned and operated by the community, not local council.

• Deloitte has prepared a separate business model that recommends a theatre that is proactive in making creative performances happen, and conducts business on a risk reward basis.

 

Mr Gardner says Charcoalblue’s detailed feasibility report and Jasmax Architects’ robust location study report clearly articulate all the processes in establishing the conclusions around location and design. He says the feasibility report reflects the level of design detail for the initial first phase; the next phase of design will deliver floor plans, elevations and more detailed concepts.

 

Momentum Waikato, and the Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel, have been impressed with the professionalism and depth of the report from Charcoalblue and the team of architects, engineers and other consultants. “This report reflects the robust and comprehensive work done by this wider team and they’ve engaged well with a wide variety of key stakeholders. We really believe something transformational for the region can be achieved with this project,” he says.

Momentum Waikato Chief Executive Cheryl Reynolds says the organisation was

approached in 2016 by several generous individuals and organisations interested in utilising the Foundation to contribute to a new iconic theatre. “Our trustees took on a servant leadership role, on behalf of our community, to identify the transformational opportunities and intergenerational needs of a new regional theatre.”

 

While work continues on the new theatre project, those Foundation trustees will also begin seeking a new Chief Executive to pick up the reins from 2018. Ms Reynolds, who has been the founding Chief Executive of Momentum Waikato Community Foundation for the past four years, will depart at the end of 2017 to establish a new social enterprise for generosity. Mr Gardner says Ms Reynolds has been an inspirational leader and guiding hand during the first four years. “Momentum Waikato has greatly benefited from her knowledge and

expertise. Luckily she’s not going too far and remains committed to the Waikato region and to supporting Momentum Waikato through her new venture.”

The Foundation will begin a search for a new Chief Executive in the coming weeks.

Read Charcoalblue’s full feasibility report on the Momentum Waikato website. www.momentumwaikato.nz

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