Restoration of Auckland’s historic St James Theatre has stalled for nine months and the site of the $67 million project left untouched since late last year.
“We finished up last August/September,” said Steve Bielby of the Auckland Notable Properties Trust, trying to preserve and re-open the Queen St venue built in 1928.
Tours of the theatre are being conducted later this week and Bielby said there was already a waiting list of more than 200 people, which he believed was an indication of strong interest in the Auckland CBD building.
“At the moment, we’re waiting for an answer on the apartment building,” Bielby said of the stalled neighbouring apartment block, planned to rise beside the St James and provide toilets, disabled access and lifts for the old theatre.
“They’ve had their consent extended. We’ve got all our funds pretty much sorted. But it’s conditional on us delivering an operational theatre and we can’t deliver that,” he said referring for the need for the neighbouring new apartments to rise to provide facilities.
“We’re playing with the idea of a temporary measure to meet that criteria,” he said of a new plan to incorporate facilities within the St James and ditch hopes for the neighbouring site.
But he is sceptical about whether the $250m apartment tower project will come to fruition.
“I just don’t know whether the market is right for building apartments. You have to wonder. I would like to start work on the St James ASAP – tomorrow. Unfortunately I can’t do anything more until I have some confirmation on the apartments. But we can at least open up the building and people can see what we have to do to restore and upgrade it,” he said.
In November 2015, Auckland Council agreed to pay $15m towards the $60m to $70m cost of restoring the heritage building.
The theatre was originally designed for vaudeville acts. Its architect Henry Eli White also designed the St James Theatre in Wellington. It closed in 2007 because of safety concerns. It reopened briefly in 2015 to reinvigorate Auckland’s support for restoring the building.
Bielby said last year that repairs would stop soon.
“Work will shortly halt while the final design is consented. Then it is our intent to get into more of the ground works and new base isolation system which we have already purchased the isolators for and are in New Zealand,” he said in July 2017, referring to the seismic system.
In December 2016, Relianz Holdings abandoned the 39-level, 309-unit St James Suites on Queen St beside the historic theatre because of funding problems. Relianz is a vehicle of Auckland-based Lijun Li and his family which bought the theatre and adjacent land. Part of the planned new tower was to be used to make the St James compliant on aspects such as access and toilets.
A Relianz statement just before Christmas of 2016 spelled out the issues which caused the tower to be cancelled.
“…despite significant efforts to secure replacement funding to allow the project to progress, difficult lending market conditions mean it has not been able to reach a feasible solution. Unfortunately, this means the St James Suites apartment development is not currently viable and the development is on hold until further notice,” the statement said.
It said buyers would get their deposits back in full, plus interest.