Children's museum pitched for Hamilton's disused Founders Theatre

Founders Theatre has been closed for safety reasons since March 2016 and Hamilton City Council is asking community ...
STUFF

Founders Theatre has been closed for safety reasons since March 2016 and Hamilton City Council is asking community groups if they're interested in taking it over (file photo).

Children could be building skyscrapers and damming the Waikato River in Hamilton's old theatre if Bruce Cresswell has his way.

The grandfather of 14 is pushing for Founders Theatre to become a children's museum, where kid-sized versions of the world create play opportunities.

Similar attractions around the world let kids sit astride a Harley-Davidson, fight a mocked-up fire with a laser beam hose and collect rocks on the moon, he said.

Bruce Cresswell wants to turn the old Founders Theatre into a children's museum, with interactive play areas for kids. ...
LIBBY WILSON/STUFF

Bruce Cresswell wants to turn the old Founders Theatre into a children's museum, with interactive play areas for kids. That would leave enough space for a community hub in the building too, he says.

The concept is popular through the United States and Cresswell thinks it could fit in the out-of-action Founders building, along with a community hub.

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"Museum's not a really good word [for this], either, but that's how they're recognised," said Cresswell, who worked in business development for about three decades.

Cresswell has visited several US children's museums with family and says they are popular attractions. Pictured is ...
BRUCE CRESSWELL/SUPPLIED

Cresswell has visited several US children's museums with family and says they are popular attractions. Pictured is Sylvie tending a car at the Betty Brinn Children's Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"They don't store relics and things, we provide real-life play experiences for young people."

Cresswell's visited many with family in the United States and said they were a popular tourist attraction.

The museum would cater for kids aged from 2 to 10, Cresswell said, and allow them to experience an adult world on their level.

A build-your-own skyscraper exhibit is one example of what the museum could have, Cresswell said. Pictured are Sylvie ...
BRUCE CRESSWELL/SUPPLIED

A build-your-own skyscraper exhibit is one example of what the museum could have, Cresswell said. Pictured are Sylvie and Michael at the Chicago Children's Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

Exhibits could include banking, postal services, television production and supermarkets - "all using pseudo products" - according to a proposal Cresswell has prepared.

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The idea does have similarities to Exscite at Waikato Museum, he said, but he believes the two wouldn't cannibalise each other's business.

Cresswell's suggestion comes as Hamilton City Council considers what to do with Founders Theatre, which has been closed for safety reasons since March 2016.

Councillors have previously talked about three options: complete demolition, partial demolition and re-use, or reinstating for an alternative community use.

On Friday, council put out a call for community groups interested in taking over Founders.

The children's museum could coexist on the site with a community hub proposed by Community Waikato, Cresswell said, and he will create a business plan for the nonprofit venture.

"We can do this financially to create value. I'm certain of that," he said.

The museum would have an entry charge and could have sponsors for exhibits - such as WEL Energy for a mini Waikato River exhibit or New World for a supermarket area.

Before she heard about the museum idea, Community Waikato chief executive Holly Snape had asked council about turning backstage areas into community space.

The museum won't need the backstage space, so the two plans could fit in Founders together.

"Founders is a really big space, it's really nice and central, it's on a bus route. It has everything that we need, with good parking around it. It's the right part of town," Snape said.

Bringing community groups together in that space could allow them to pool resources and people and come up with innovative solutions, she said.

She hopes council will gift the building to the project and thinks there's a good chance of getting funding to alter it for their purposes.

"I haven't imagined there would be any cost for council long-term ... I think that council would be actually getting back in terms of us paying the lease for the land."

Hamilton City Council is asking community groups interested in taking over Founders to submit a proposal before November 19.

People will get to have their say on the future of Founders Theatre, and how the council funds the proposed Waikato Regional Theatre, from October 25 November 26, 2017. Cresswell has more information about his plan on his website.

 - Stuff

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