Arts group faces exit stage left

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2014

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One of Hamilton's most established arts groups is facing the prospect of having to fundraise more than $700,000 to stay at its current site.

Hamilton City Council will debate whether to sell the land underneath Riverlea Theatre next month as it looks to wrap up its review into the city's theatres.

The theatre is home to Musikmakers, Playbox and Stagecraft.

Riverlea Theatre Trust chairwoman Lois Livingston said buying the land could cost the trust as much as $700,000.

The council is also considering selling a plot of land next to the theatre block.

"We've got a lease until 2027, which stands, but if it sells to someone else they might want to put up the rent," Livingston said.

"The council hasn't given us a valuation for the section, which we've asked for, but it was previously valued at $700,000. That's a lot of money for a community group to come up with and it's money that we would desperately like to put into the theatre itself and our courses."

Livingston said the city council was being inconsistent in how it dealt with Hamilton's arts groups after it gifted the Meteor Theatre to One Victoria Trust earlier this year.

"On one hand you've got the council giving a hugely valuable site to one group and to another they're saying you can stay there but you're going to have to buy the land. Potentially we could raise the money, by getting funding from the big trusts, but what a waste. It's money we could spend on our children and young people."

As part of its theatre review, city councillors have given Creative Waikato three months to firm up a proposal to transform Hamilton's Clarence Street Theatre into a performing arts centre.

City councillor Martin Gallagher said the review presented the council with "significant financial challenges" and it was vital the council worked with arts groups in a collaborative manner.

Gallagher said the council had correctly developed sports facilities for the benefit of young people and the same approach should be taken to providing facilities for those engaged in the arts.

"The Riverlea Theatre do a fantastic job for our people and they are my heroes.

"A cold financial approach to our theatre groups won't work for me. I think it's important we keep an open mind but we shouldn't follow a cold-hearted asset sale that leaves our wonderful theatre and performing arts groups out in the cold on the street," Gallagher said. aaron.leaman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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- Waikato Times

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