Theatre may bring long awaited footbridge

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An artist’s impression of a possible pedestrian and cycling bridge across to Memorial Park.

An artist’s impression of a possible pedestrian and cycling bridge across to Memorial Park.

A long-awaited central city pedestrian bridge could be a reality within just three years alongside Hamilton’s Waikato Regional Theatre project.

Momentum Waikato which is leading the $73 million theatre project, has released new concept designs for the theatre complex following a round of public submissions.

Momentum Waikato’s new chief executive Kelvyn Eglinton has also suggested for the first time that a walking and cycling bridge could be built “in tandem” with the theatre which it plans to have constructed by 2021.

Waikato Business News understands there are some Waikato organisations contemplating raising funds for the bridge, removing the need for ratepayers to contribute.

However the bridge is still a long way from being a certainty.

Some form of central city pedestrian bridge has been talked about for more than 20 years with former restaurateur Brian Anderson proposing a bridge similar to Florence’s Ponte Vecchio in 1993. In the late 1990s to commemorate the Year 2000, a group led by former Hamilton Mayor Margaret Evans  proposed a bridge as part of the Millennium Esplanade in the Ferrybank area.

A pedestrian bridge was also proposed in 2014 as part of Hamilton City Council’s Ferrybank plan.

The pedestrian bridge wasn’t highlighted as something that would be part of the original theatre project construction, with the original intent being that a bridge could come later.

But that thinking appears to have changed as other organisations have shown interest in getting involved.   

Asked specifically about the pedestrian bridge, Kelvyn Eglinton said the success of the Perry Cycle Bridge at Horotiu is evidence of how central government is looking for more pedestrian/cycleways.

“A number of different groups – and I can’t say who they are – are looking at the bridge’s potential. That is off the back of the theatre plan where council and other funders have come to the table, some of the elements in the Ferrybank Plan and Donny Trust’s generous $1 million donation. It’s a good example of how three or four projects time-lined in sequence can bring a greater benefit.”

He posed the bridge as a part solution to public concerns about a lack of parking at the theatre’s proposed location at the old Hamilton Hotel.

Kelvyn says while parking is a city-wide issue, there are several hundred carparks available within 400 metres which are just a few minutes’ walk from the theatre. A count of carparks shows a total of 2200 in buildings or streets nearby. Disabled access will obviously be accommodated, he says.

The Ferrybank development and potential for a walking and cycle bridge from Memorial Park, would also increase access when leveraged as projects in tandem with the theatre, he says.

Draft council plans put up before a recent briefing portray a pedestrian bridge (pictured) adjacent to the Waikato Museum although an exact location has yet to be decided.

Momentum Waikato’s new theatre design comes as a result of a huge public submission process on the initial designs released last year by theatre consultants Charcoalblue. Hamilton City Council and other Waikato councils will consider funding for the theatre project in their Long Term Plan debates in June.

There is still far from universal acceptance of the Victoria St site from many Hamilton residents who would prefer a rebuilt or upgraded theatre at the Founders Theatre site.

Kelvyn says the submission process for the theatre revealed a lot of support for the project, but also flushed out worries about the size of the theatre auditorium.

Latest plans of how the new Waikato Regional Theatre would look from Victoria Street.

Latest plans of how the new Waikato Regional Theatre would look from Victoria Street.

“We were really pleased with the feedback we received from all around the Waikato region and from user groups. We have listened to that feedback and we’ve increased the seat numbers in the theatre from 1100 to 1300 on the back of this.”

Many submitters were also concerned about accessibility at the river-facing theatre which will 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. Equipment vehicles will use the Sapper Moore-Jones Place access.

“Charcoalblue has worked with the National Symphony Orchestra, taken their largest truck and mapped out turning circles and the parameters they’ll work within when they use the new theatre.”

The Waikato Regional Theatre project has been costed at $73 million, including a 20 percent contingency. He says the required geotechnical work has been done on the riverbank site and shows the land is appropriate and safe for the theatre building foundations. 

Funding of $30 million for the theatre is planned to come from local councils, Trust Waikato has committed $15 million, $16 million will be sought from central government, sponsorship or Lotteries funding, and the balance is expected to come from generous families and organisations in the Waikato region.

In 2016, Hamilton City Council agreed in principle to spend up to $30 million towards a theatre, and Momentum Waikato commissioned Charcoalblue to run the process.

Kelvyn says residents in the Waikato region will get excellent value for their councils’ contributions.

“For Hamilton City Council’s $25 million contribution, the people of Hamilton will be getting a world-class theatre that puts us firmly on the culture map. Momentum Waikato is capping the cost to ratepayers in the region at $30 million and we are carrying any risk on this project.”

The design of the new theatre has shared public spaces, a public art gallery and retail space, and also a lifestyle hotel. The areas to be shared between the theatre and the privately developed lifestyle art hotel will allow for cost savings and provide 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 the sharing of these facilities is expected to provide many synergies and economies of scale.

Kelvyn says calculations show it will not be cheaper to build anywhere else. “The shared costings with the proposed hotel mean we have been able to keep costs for the theatre lower while still delivering what will be an international-level theatre.”

The hotel would restore the original façade and some internal elements of the old Hamilton Hotel, which is recognised as a heritage building.

The next phase of the project is the “preliminary design” which gives greater visibility of and confidence in technical and budget requirements. This is due in September, followed by the “detailed design and documentation” phase in February 2019 and calling for tenders in March 2019. The new Waikato Regional Theatre has a planned opening date of June 2021.

(See Monthly Poll here)
Should the Waikato Regional Theatre be based by the Waikato River or at the Founders Theatre site?

Note for readers: Geoff Taylor is also a Hamilton city councillor.


Parkhaven takes shape

Hamilton first purpose-built multi-use apartment building is taking shape before thousands of curious eyes as motorists drive past it daily on Tristram St.

The five-storey Parkhaven building will house a cafe and retail on the ground floor, and office space and 21 apartments above. The building opposite Founders Theatre and close to Seddon Park is due for completion in December. The $14.5 million development by BCD Group meshes with a Hamilton City Council plan to make the area north of London Street high density. Mixed-use development is starting to gain traction in cities like Auckland and Tauranga and Parkhaven now brings the concept to Hamilton.

(See full story here)

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Geoff Taylor

Waikato Business News editor Geoff Taylor. Email: geoff@wbn.co.nz