Heritage status stymies plans for theatre

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Sarah Burren in front of Devonport's Victoria Theatre.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Sarah Burren in front of Devonport's Victoria Theatre.

Plans for Devonport’s Victoria Theatre have been dealt a major blow with Wellington-based company Lighthouse Cinema formally withdrawing its interest in running it.

This week Lighthouse Cinema owner Simon Werry confirmed they were backing out "for a number of reasons", one being the building’s category 1 status on the Historic Places Trust listing.

This is the highest rating and limits options for what can be done to the theatre.

The theatre has been vacant since the North Shore City Council bought it for $1.55 million in 2006.

Talks started last year between the council, Lighthouse Cinema and the Historic Places Trust but little progress has been made.

Mr Werry says it was not appropriate to continue with the project mainly because of sensitivities associated with an historic building.

"Significant things couldn’t be altered.

"We have spent a large amount of money already and done a large amount of research and analysis."

Mr Werry says the council has always been proactive and supportive and he decided it was a project better left in the council’s hands.

"It’s in the too-hard basket. It needs to be paid for by the council and ratepayers."

Council community liaison manager Lisa Tocker says the matter is confidential and the relevant people in the council are being notified.

"What happens next can’t be disclosed yet."

The council owns the land and needs someone to lease the building long-
term.

Victoria Theatre Trust chairwoman Sarah Burren says the news is not a surprise but a relief.

She hopes the trust’s status as second-preferred tenderer will be honoured.

"It’s very delicate. The theatre has had so much profiling.

Ms Burren says the theatre has always had huge entertainment value, and can still have a screen, auditorium and stage while complying with historic places regulations.

"Creative people need to use the space for music, cinema and theatre."

Ms Burren admires the Lighthouse Cinema group for trying to come up with a solution.

She says the project was never going to be easy.

"The building’s unique quality needs to be looked after because it’s a pinnacle for Devonport."

As for the amount of time the process has taken, she says: "Expletive, expletive."

But she adds the end result will be worth the wait.

North Shore Times