Auckland's St James Theatre to be renovated

Last updated 05:00 29/10/2014

Auckland's historic St James Theatre will be restored and 39-level residential tower built next door.

David Hartnell
LONG FIGHT: St James Charitable Trust ambassador David Hartnell.
Artists impression
BIG PLANS: Artist’s impression showing the Queen St view of a restored St James Theatre and neighbouring 39-storey residential tower, dubbed the St James Suites, at 302 Queen St.
GRAND DAME: Elemental Construction Solutions’ Mike Gibbon, Auckland Notable Properties Trust’s Steve Bielby and Auckland mayor Len Brown announce plans to develop the St James site and restore the theatre.

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The trust that fought to save the St James is thrilled the theatre's curtain looks set to rise once more.

The St James Charitable Trust, formed by Bob Kerridge, has lobbied for about three years to see the grand old Auckland dame get back on her feet.

The historic theatre at 302 Queen St is to be restored and a neighbouring 39-level residential tower built after it was bought by family owned Relianz Holdings.

Kerridge hopes the trust will be involved in some capacity in the restoration.

"We are thrilled a buyer has come on board who is interested in the restoration of the St James to see her return to her former glory."

Any concerns the trust had about the future of the building are gone, he said.

The theatre was built in 1928 but closed in 2007 because of damage from a fire in a neighbouring building.

Generations of Aucklanders have fond memories of attending concerts and shows there including a screening of Jane Campion's The Piano, the musical Cats, heavy metal band Motorhead, Nick Cave and members of the Finn family.

The development, estimated to cost about $175 million, will include a three-level retail precinct and 195 car parks.

Restoration of the theatre, including the heritage-listed bell tower, was confirmed by its new owners last week.

Its reopening, subject to safety and earthquake strengthening work, could be set for 2018 when the whole project is earmarked for completion.

Trust ambassador David Hartnell is overjoyed by the plans.

"I'm delighted that this family sees the potential of bringing back an iconic theatre and one of the best theatres that we have in New Zealand."

It is a category one heritage building meaning all work will be scrutinised by Heritage New Zealand. Funding is yet to be agreed but it is thought Relianz Holdings, Auckland Council and the Auckland Notable Properties Trust will each contribute.

Kerridge said the St James Auckland Charitable Trust will likely help with funding as well.

"We need to know a little bit more about the conditions and so forth before we can make any decisions, but we will support what needs to be done and what should be done to bring the theatre back to life."

Consents have already been approved for the high-rise development, to be called the St James Suites, on the adjacent site.

Hartnell said he has no issue with the 39-level tower.

"I've always said to build on top of the theatre - don't destroy it. High-rises are obviously the way everything is going, so that's perfectly fine.

"From the plans that I've seen it looks superb. They're going to bring that right back to the frontage, which thank God is still there, so that's fantastic."

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Heritage New Zealand northern general manager Sherry Reynolds said the theatre is in urgent need of attention.

But many of its unique original interior features remain intact, she said.

"The St James Theatre is a significant heritage asset for Auckland."

- Auckland City Harbour News

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