The big idea for a Waikato Regional Theatre is getting to the nitty-gritty.
The $73.9 million project would put a 1300-seat auditorium in Hamilton’s main street and restore the former Hamilton Hotel building.
A little over two years since the site was announced, and about $6m later, those behind the theatre have applied for consent to get work started.
All going to plan, there could be action on the site by late January 2020, Momentum Waikato chief executive Kelvyn Eglinton said.
As well as the theatre and hotel, plans include a gallery and atrium areas, a foyer and roof terrace, and a riverfront promenade.
“The challenge is the scale of the project, and something quite transformative,” Eglinton said. “The building is one aspect but it’s the things that will come out of that.”
There’s interest from event promoters and potential naming rights sponsors, and the group is confirming conditions for a share of the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund cash.
“We know that we can unlock a whole lot of other community funding when we get the PGF and that’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Hamilton Urban Design Panel members were convinced by plans in June 2018; members called it “the most significant civic and urban intervention in Hamilton CBD currently” and overwhelmingly supported it, a council report said.
Public submissions proved more mixed: 11 in support, three neutral, and 14 opposed.
Several talked about benefits and potential revitalisation of the CBD, others worried about a loss of heritage, stability of the riverside embankment area, wanting more detail, and the effects of construction on nearby areas.
Car parking – a common question – was also addressed in council’s report.
A key part of plans is refurbishing the former Hamilton Hotel, a heritage building, keeping facades on the Victoria St and Sapper Moore-Jones Place sides.
It’s currently in poor condition “with numerous cracks, damaged surface finishes, broken spouting and shoddy repair work in evidence,” a heritage assessment found.
Almost all other buildings on the site – including a 1929 addition to the hotel – would be demolished for the theatre project, but consent conditions may oblige re-use of the most significant historical features.
They include fixtures and fittings from the area known as Queen’s Suite, original leadlight windows, and the central oak panelled staircase.
Other plans for the site include an art gallery on the second level, overlooking Embassy Park and Victoria Street.
A glass-ceiling atrium would connect the refurbished hotel and the theatre and, on the auditorium’s eastern side, a cantilevered foyer area would provide views over Waikato River.
Above the foyer would be a roof terrace, and a public riverfront promenade would run in front of the theatre.
A translucent, back-lit, nine-metre-high screen would cover parts of the building’s northern and southern facades.
Overall, the project would help revitalise the central city and provide more arts opportunities, Boffa Miskell’s Andrew Cumberpatch wrote in his report for council.
“The proposed location, design and mix of activities, which will allow for increased connections to the Waikato River and existing public spaces, is also considered to be a positive social effect,” the associate principal planner wrote.
Car parking has been a concern for many and Momentum’s plan includes just six staff spaces in a basement area.
But shows wouldn’t be during commuter peak hours, a traffic assessment noted, congestion would be short-lived, and there are about 2250 public parking spaces within a five-minute walk of the site.
Those behind the theatre would like to turn the bottom of Sapper Moore-Jones Place into a shared area and remove some parking, and use some Victoria Street spots as temporary drop-off zones for large shows.
Other concerns raised about the plans centred around significant trees on the site, riverbank stability, and an urupā in the southeast corner of the site.
A decision on whether to give consent for the work on the 7300 sqm site will be made after a hearing at Hamilton City Council, starting at noon on October 16.
Council has recommended that certain conditions be imposed, including: engagement with mana whenua, monthly meetings with a Neighbour Liaison Group, the appointment of certain specialist staff, traffic management plans, and the submission of detailed plans -for example for Embassy Park – to be submitted to council staffers for approval.