Arts groups have three months to offer proposal to save theatre

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Arts advocates fear Hamilton’s Clarence St Theatre, pictured, could be sold off.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Arts advocates fear Hamilton’s Clarence St Theatre, pictured, could be sold off.

Creative Waikato has three months to firm up a proposal to transform Hamilton's Clarence Street Theatre into a performing arts centre for the city's music and theatre groups.

Hamilton City Council staff were to present a report to councillors next month recommending the sale of the 550-seat venue.

But following an informal meeting between Creative Waikato staff and elected members last week, the council agreed to give the arts body three months to come up with an alternative to selling the theatre.

Creative Waikato chief executive Sarah Nathan said the proposal would focus on transferring ownership of Clarence Street Theatre to a new trust which would be responsible for managing the theatre.

No decision had been made about the value of any theatre transaction.

"All we're talking about is the willingness to negotiate a transaction," Nathan told the Waikato Times.

"As part of our proposal to council we need to work around what is affordable, what would it cost to run the theatre and what is its value." Nathan said the arts body's work on a Waikato creative infrastructure plan showed there was a growing need for rehearsal, storage and administrative facilities.

"At the moment our music groups, particularly our choirs, orchestras and musical theatre groups, are like gypsies operating at different locations in schools or church halls or wherever they can get space."

Nathan said these groups could be centralised at Clarence St and it would give them access to an affordable space in which to perform.

A recommendation to sell Clarence Street Theatre came out of the council's theatre review.

It is also considering selling the land on which the Riverlea Theatre sits.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said Creative Waikato needed three months to get their proposal together and work up a business case.

She said the council's focus was on getting a good outcome for the city and the arts sector. "This is an opportunity for the arts sector to work together about what is the best thing for them bearing in mind that we also, as councillors, want to explore all options."

Nathan said she was confident the theatre could be transformed into a self-sufficient business with revenue streams coming from ticket sales, hireage, tenants and bar and restaurant facilities.

"You would look for community funding support for certain aspects of developing the theatre over time."

Losing the theatre would be a blow to the arts community and could result in the demise of a number of musical organisations in the city, Nathan said.

"If Clarence Street Theatre goes, you've lost our only mid-sized proscenium arch style venue in the city and you've lost a place that 12-15 musical organisations use or want to use."

Waikato Times