Closer to former glory
THE restoration master plan for the St James Theatre is nearly ready for an audience.
Relianz Holdings, which bought the 302 Queen St site last year, has enlisted The Auckland Notable Properties Trust to investigate how much restoration work is needed to get the grand old dame back on her feet.
The trust’s principal trustee Steve Bielby hopes to publicly shed some light on the plans in the next few weeks.
A full restoration is likely to top $60 million but it is still unclear who will contribute to the bill.
The theatre was built in 1928 and closed in 2007 because of damage from a fire, subsequently falling into a dilapidated state.
Rock band Motorhead, Nick Cave and the Finns have all graced its stage.
Relianz will demolish the site’s old West End and Odeon theatres to make way for a 39-storey apartment block.
Bielby still hopes to have the main theatre restored and up and running by the time the apartment complex opens in 2018.
It’s music to the ears for Bob Kerridge, founder of The St James Charitable Trust, who has lobbied for years to see the theatre saved.
‘‘I think the signs are good. All of the discussions I’ve had with everyone involved have all been very positive and I believe there is a desire now to make it happen,’’ he says.
‘‘I’m feeling positive also because at least a portion of it is now open for Aucklanders to enjoy again and I think that was a very good move.’’
But Bielby says there is still a long way to go.
Relianz has already spent more than $1 million on initial building work, he says. This includes installing new bathrooms, an industrial kitchen and electrical wiring so a cafe could open in the theatre’s foyer last month.
The stalls, stage and foyer area are now available to hire as a venue but the theatre’s balcony seating has been deemed unfit to open.
‘‘Obviously there is a hole in our funding that we need to bridge before we go any further,’’ Bielby says.
‘‘We don’t know where that’s going to come from yet but, until we put a figure on it, it’s really hard to talk to people like the council, government and trusts.
‘‘They see it almost as all or nothing – there’s no point in getting a grant for all new seating in the theatre if we can’t get the theatre open.
‘‘So I see the solution being really all of the above contributing to it.’’ Bielby says the St James won’t be ‘‘museum piece’’. ‘‘It won’t be a restoration like The Civic – to do the St James in a
a restoration form that they’ve done to The Civic you’d be up over $100m,’’ he says.
Bielby says the group intends to upgrade the building, including seismic work, all new seats and services.
‘‘It will be an authentic restoration as opposed to building a sort of state-of-the-art theatre for musicals.
‘‘Auckland has that in The Civic – it’s our view that it doesn’t need another one of them.’’
Physical works have now stopped while the trust crunches the final numbers for the plan.
‘‘We aim to have our proposal ready in the next few weeks.’’
The proposal will then be presented to stakeholders to get the ball rolling on possible funding.
The Auckland Notable Properties Trust’s Steve Bielby has been tasked with investigating how much restoration work the St James Theatre needs.