River location of proposed theatre welcomed

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A senior Hamilton City Council general manager has welcomed the announcement of a river location for Hamilton’s proposed new theatre.

The recommended location for the new Waikato Regional Theatre has been announced as the Hamilton Hotel site on Victoria St, and the community’s feedback on this is being sought. The privately-owned site currently has a range of restaurants and bars and is bordered by Embassy Park (with the Riff Raff statue) on one side and Sapper Moore-Jones Place (formerly Marlborough Pl) on the other, and runs down to the river.

Sean Murray, the council’s general manager venues, tourism, and major events group, says if the construction of the new theatre goes ahead on the Hamilton Hotel site, it will contribute to some of the council’s strategic aims for the city – particularly the River Plan and the Central City Transformation Plan.

“We like the idea that the theatre could be accessed from the river,” he says.

Momentum Waikato Trust chairman Leonard Gardner.

“Developing a new theatre on that site puts it right in the heart of the city’s hospitality district, as well as the city’s creative district, with Waikato Museum, The Meteor and Embassy Park all close by. “The Hamilton Hotel is an important heritage building for the city and this project, if it proceeds, would give it a fantastic new lease on life and add richly to its history and prominence.”

“We’re excited and pleased Momentum Waikato and Charcoalblue are recommending a site in the central city,” Mr Murray says.

A new theatre development would look to restore the facade of the old Hamilton Hotel, which is recognised as a heritage building. Momentum Waikato Community Foundation chairman Leonard Gardner and Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel chairman Julian Elder briefed Hamilton City Council’s mayor and councillors in July about the recommended site.

Says Mr Gardner, “This location will transform the region and city through recognising history, revitalising the CBD, supporting hospitality offerings, and enhancing connection with the Waikato River.”

Momentum Waikato has joined with Hamilton City Council to fund the work to reach recommendations on the best options to replace the ageing Founders Theatre, closed last year due to safety concerns.  Momentum Waikato and Hamilton City Council each secured $100,000 and appointed the independent Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel to manage the process of determine the optimum theatre location, configuration, design, and the range of expected community benefits of a new theatre.

Late last year the panel engaged international theatre design consultancy Charcoalblue to carry out the work. Dr Elder says Charcoalblue has spent several months talking with stakeholders and user groups throughout the region and investigating possible locations around Hamilton City, owned by the Council or private landholders, to make its recommendation on location and concept. The concept design for the site and business case for the theatre will be presented to the council at an August 24 meeting and will then go out to public consultation.

Momentum Waikato is encouraging the community to offer feedback on the recommended site, and this can be done via Momentum Waikato, and via the public consultation process from September. Members of the public are also welcome to sign up for regular updates from Momentum Waikato.

Mr Murray who is also the council’s representative on the theatre panel, says although the council has committed, in principle, $30 million to the project, there is a lot more work to be done before the project commences. The Hamilton Hotel site is owned by the Plaw family and has a long and strong arts and theatre history.

Says spokesperson Mitch Plaw: “We are fully supportive of the recommended new theatre location and look forward to working with the theatre project team to create the best outcome for the Waikato region and Hamilton CBD.”

Among the approximately 25 sites considered by Charcoalblue were Grantham St, Sonning Carpark (on River Rd) and Garden Place. The existing Founders Theatre site was carefully considered, as was the idea of utilising land at the University of Waikato, but the Hamilton Hotel site was deemed better able to achieve the goals of the community. Dr Elder says the Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel promised to deliver on the community’s behalf a robust process seeking a new theatre site, and he believes this has been achieved. As well as its in-depth discussions with stakeholders, Charcoalblue has been working with architects, engineers and arts advisers to create the recommendation for Phase One – the master plan, cost estimate and build-plan for a new theatre, Dr Elder says.

An aerial view of the proposed Regional Theatre site

“We’re now working with Charcoalblue on the finer details of how this theatre might look, right down to parking, accessibility, and dealing with equipment deliveries that you’d expect for a theatre site. Planning and heritage considerations for the site have been considered, and we are confident we can work through these with Hamilton City Council.”

The full Waikato Regional Theatre Bulk and Location report compiled by Charcoalblue, with rankings of all the sites considered, is available on the Momentum Waikato website.

Mr Gardner says the Waikato Regional Theatre is planned to be the head tenant in a “creative precinct”. The hope is the theatre project will revitalise the properties around the theatre site which are primarily historic in nature.

“These properties will provide an ideal home for creative industry to flourish.” He says Momentum Waikato’s role is to convene, connect and align generous people in Waikato to create a better Waikato for everyone, forever – linking major projects with strategic philanthropy.

“This is a generational opportunity to create a significant community asset for our wider region – not just Hamilton – and, for the sake of the future generations, we need to make sure we do it well.” Momentum Waikato was approached last year by a number of generous individuals and organisations interested in giving through Momentum Waikato to contribute to a new theatre. “We have several generous families, individual donors and local trusts who have supported us so far, and we are grateful to have them all on this journey with us,” Mr Gardner says. He says there are a number of generous individuals and organisations keen to make the theatre a reality, but the project requires the entire community to be generous and work together. “Momentum Waikato will be looking for people willing to invest in future generations to get the project across the line,” he says. “Just like members of the Waikato community contributed capital to build Founders Theatre more than 50 years ago, it’s important we work with the community again to take responsibility for delivering a world-class theatre that will help transform the urban fabric of the city and enhance other plans for the city and the river,” Mr Gardner says. Momentum Waikato will be making it easy for everyone in the region to be generous and to support the project.

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