Closer to for­mer glory

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By JESS LEE

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.

Photo: PHOTOTEK.CO.NZ

The Auck­land No­table Prop­er­ties Trust’s Steve Bielby has been tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing how much restora­tion work the St James Theatre needs.

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