Waikato's new theatre unveiled: Founders Theatre replacement revealed

An artist's impression of what the new Waikato regional theatre could look like from the river. Full designs are still ...
JASMAX

An artist's impression of what the new Waikato regional theatre could look like from the river. Full designs are still to be done.

Waikato people can now get their first look at the new theatre.

The proposed multimillion-dollar facility would be in Hamilton's main street overlooking the river and could also house an art gallery and a boutique hotel.

However, the cost of the gallery and hotel isn't in the estimated $73 million pricetag, as the vision is for them to be privately developed.

An artist's impression of what the interior spaces of the new Waikato regional theatre building could look like and how ...
JASMAX

An artist's impression of what the interior spaces of the new Waikato regional theatre building could look like and how they would connect to the river. Spaces would be designed for performance, including dance, and performers could hire these spaces, rather than the full theatre.

The Waikato has been without a key performing arts venue since Founders Theatre shut in March 2016.

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Philanthropic organisation Momentum Waikato stepped up to work on a new theatre and, through the Waikato Regional Theatre governance panel, hired specialists from international theatre design consultancy Charcoalblue.

The former Hamilton Hotel site is the proposed location for the new Waikato regional theatre  (file photo).
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

The former Hamilton Hotel site is the proposed location for the new Waikato regional theatre (file photo).

Charcoalblue's vision was revealed at a Hamilton City Council meeting on Thursday, and councillors unanimously backed more investigation of the concept.

If the funding is confirmed later in 2017, the theatre could open in July 2021, Momentum Waikato chairman Leonard Gardner said.

A "distinctive and dramatic" screen wrapped around the building would be a stand-out feature and look like a fine river mist, Charcoalblue's design report said.

Founders Theatre in Hamilton was closed in March 2016 because of safety concerns with the flying system. Hamilton City ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Founders Theatre in Hamilton was closed in March 2016 because of safety concerns with the flying system. Hamilton City Council later found out the building was also earthquake prone (file photo).

Two towers would poke out of the top of the building. There would be entrances from Embassy Plaza or a proposed plaza on Sapper Moore-Jones Place.

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The main theatre would have a maximum seating capacity of about 1100, be flexible to suit various genres and cater for different crowd sizes without feeling empty, councillors heard.

Less formal performances areas would be in the foyer - which overlooks the river - and the courtyard.

The hotel part of the plan is somewhere between a possibility and a probability, Gardner said.

It would incorporate the Hamilton Hotel facade, use some parts of the former hotel, and could help the project be transformational for the city, Gardner said.

People could come for a weekend trip and stay in the hotel, enjoy Hamilton hospitality, take a ferry to Hamilton Gardens and see a show.

The theatre is expected to cost $72.9m - around $12m of that is contingency funding - with costs would be shared between local councils, donors and central government.

Elected members were quick to praise the proposal.

It's on "the most stunning site in Hamilton City", Mayor Andrew King said.

The city was owed a theatre and Momentum Waikato has turned obligation into opportunity, Councillor Mark Bunting said.

Cr James Casson said it could be one small step for Momentum Waikato, but a giant leap for Hamilton.

But he wanted neighbouring councils to contribute to the $30m share Hamilton City Council is taking the lead for.

Cost also concerned other councillors, including Garry Mallett.

"I'm very supportive of this going ahead. I struggle with the current financial situation that council is in," he said.

Every dollar invested into a project meant more maintenance costs later, he said.

The future of Founders Theatre also came up, and Cr Angela O'Leary was not at all supportive of demolishing it.

Several community groups had approached her with ideas for its use and council needs to talk to them, she said.

No designated car parking is included in the new theatre design, which also prompted questions.

It's not sensible to bring 500 cars to one main street spot, Charcoalblue Melbourne studio principal Eric Lawrence said.

However, Charcoalblue will look into options that could help in the next stage of concept design, and there would be provision for people who needed to get close to the theatre or be dropped off.

Work on the theatre proposal started in July 2016, when council committed a maximum of $30m to a Momentum Waikato-led Waikato Regional Theatre project.

Council also put $100,000 into planning.

On Thursday, councillors voted unanimously to receive the latest report.

Cr Phillip Yeung is on leave and Dave Macpherson was not present for the vote.

The next update to councillors will be at a September 21 meeting.

It will include management's response to the design, the financial effect of council contributing $30m plus GST and of ongoing annual contributions, a report said.

Councillors will also hear about the options - and costs - of Founders Theatre's future, and a plan for public consultation on both theatres.

What would Waikato Regional Theatre be like?

* on Victoria Street, at the site of former Hamilton Hotel
* 6432sqm
* formal auditorium with flexibility to suit different events
* less formal foyer and courtyard performance spaces
* suggested maximum seating of 1100
* budget is about $73m, including around $12m contingency
* could be open in July 2021 if a decision is made in 2017
Source: Momentum Waikato/Charcoalblue

 - Stuff

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