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Gisborne District Council has agreed to get detailed plans drawn up to redevelop the War Memorial Theatre on its existing site. The building, which was originally a dance hall before being converted into a theatre in 1975, is deteriorating.
Council was presented with a report this week that included five options for the future of the theatre including doing nothing and finding a new site on which to build a completely new theatre.
A design that uses the existing theatre site, increases seating from 420 to 550 and has vastly improved facilities for performers and audiences was chosen to be progressed. The estimated cost of this option is $6.8m.
The design has been scoped and consulted on with theatre users. Feedback has been very positive. However, when the theatre actually gets built will depend on the outcomes of Council’s project prioritisation in October and fundraising efforts.
Council committed $925,000 to the project in the 2009-2019 Ten Year Plan. Grant funding of $6 million is required to complete the project.
“While the amount to be raised is significant we believe this is a realistic target given the passion people have in our community for this facility,” says Mayor Meng Foon. “Having Dame Kiri Te Kanawa onboard as patron will give the project a national profile.”
Roger Shand, one of the best specialist theatre architects in the country, has produced the design. Councillor Pat Seymour was instrumental in getting him involved in this project. “His involvement will give funders a lot of confidence. All his other theatre projects have been high profile and very successful.”
An upgrade of the War Memorial Theatre was included in Council’s 2006–2016 Ten Year Plan. In the 2009–2019 Ten Year Plan, Council bought the upgrade forward to 2011.
Council is currently asking communities to ‘share and idea’ and feedback on what should be included in its 2012 – 2022 Ten Year plan. Feedback received so far suggests that while the theatre is not the top priority project - walking and cycling is - Council can still be confident that there is solid support for the proposed upgrade.
Giblin and Associates, who prepared the feasibility study, say a redevelopment of the theatre on the existing site is a viable option and would satisfy the needs of all the local users especially the dance schools and those holding competitions at the venue. The recommended option includes a full upgrade of the stage and backstage areas, a new and larger foyer area, additional seating, and work on the roof of the auditorium and existing front of house. Seating capacity which breaks the 500 seat threshold that some promoters favour, should result in an increased number of shows using the theatre. Early suggestions to turn the theatre 90 degrees and include part of the RSA building have been rejected because of the additional $3 million required.