Tall order for St James

Last updated 13:24 19/02/2008
GLASS TOWER: The 39-level Antipodean Apartments, comprising 334 apartments, retail and carparking on the site of the historic St James theatre.

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Plans to build a glass apartment block above the St James Theatre have been revived, four years after being quashed by the High Court.

But questions still hang over the future of the historic theatre, which has been closed since a fire last May.

Developers of the 39-level Antipodean Apartments have submitted a revised resource consent application to Auckland City Council.

The tower has been changed from concrete frame to glass, after the 2004 High Court decision said design should have been given more consideration.

The proposal would leave the protected St James Theatre intact and restore its Queen St tower, enclosed in cladding since 1953.

Part of the 1928 building, including three cinemas added more recently, would be demolished.

Significant heritage items from this section would be salvaged and kept for any future restoration of the St James.

But developer Paul Doole says there are no plans to reopen the theatre at this stage.

He is speaking to the council about options for the venue, which has the highest possible heritage protection under the district plan.

"They’re doing an assessment, as are we as part of our consent regarding the development."

Basic fire protection and electrical upgrades needed to reopen the stalls would cost at least $10 million, according to a council memo.

And new building code standards mean any work would trigger the need for earthquake-proofing, which could cost up to $50 million.

Mr Doole says he hasn’t approached the council, or any other party, about buying the theatre.

Mayor John Banks says he would like to see the St James restored, but the council would not get involved unless the project had significant contributions from the private sector and central government.

"Given that we’re struggling with funding and cost escalations around Q Theatre, I’m reluctant to bite off more than I can chew."

The original Antipodean Apartments proposal was approved by the council in 2003 without being publicly notified.

That decision was overturned by the High Court in 2004 after a judicial review requested by Urban Auckland.

Committee members for the trust, which monitors the quality of design in Auckland, were unavailable for comment.

St James Theatre leaseholder Peter McArthur wouldn’t comment on the plans, saying he was involved with court action with owners Norfolk Trustee Company.

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A council spokesman says the application is still being processed and no decision has been made on whether it will be publicly notified.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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