Future of Auckland's St James Theatre increasingly uncertain

Source: 1 NEWS

Calls for the Government to invest $15 million into helping revive the St James Theatre were dealt a tough blow today after claims the project would cost up to $100 million.

By Thomas Day

Built in 1928, the St James Theatre is one of Auckland’s oldest entertainment establishments, but has been out of action since 2007.

Owner Steve Bielby says the project will cost between $60-$70 million, $15 million of which has already been pledged by the council.

“All we are asking the Government for is to match council's contribution towards it. It enables us to get to the start blocks, for that apartment block to be assessed privately and commercially, and actually have a good chance of going ahead.”

Bielby told 1News, he had already received a large amount of private funding, and securing the funding from the Government would have provided the owners of the apartment block with certainty because both projects would need to be undertaken at the same time.

The push for funding has also received support from Auckland Central’s MP Chlöe Swarbrick.

“This is a really important part of cultural and city infrastructure, when we think of Tamaki Makaurau in the city centre there is a huge number of infrastructural developments in play at the moment, whether that is the upgrade of Queen Street, or the City Rail Link in a few years, it's time to wake up the sleeping giant and wake up all of these sleeping dots in what's supposed to be our arts hub.”

But her endorsement wasn’t enough for the Government.

Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan said: “We know the arts, culture and heritage sector has been impacted by Covid and many individuals and organisations are struggling, hence we have made significant investment into the sector as a response to that.

"The Government absolutely values our heritage buildings and has invested heavily to conserve and restore large numbers of them. However spending many millions on one project in the middle of a pandemic is not a top priority.”

A priority CEO of Heart in the City Viv Beck, says should be at the top.

“It would be devastating to lose it, and I think having it sitting there languishing for the last five years has been extremely disappointing, it would have a range of cultural and economic benefits and I would really like to see it restored, I think it is appropriate for Government funding as it is a regional and national asset.”

But the building has gone through concerns before.

Plans came to a standstill to revive the theatre and the apartment block in 2017, despite many of the proposed apartments being bought.

Development costs ballooned and soon funding for the project was pulled.

Bielby acknowledges the building has had a tough ride.

“St James is the victim of 30 years of deferred maintenance and lack of investment, and what we've got is a situation where it suddenly requires to be brought up to the current standards to the building code and to do that requires a substantial seismic upgrade to the building.”

Capable of holding up to 2,500 people, the theatre would become one of Auckland’s largest entertainment venues.

Over the years it has played host to iconic names including, Kanye West, Coldplay, Dido, Miles Davis and Laurence Oliver and was even visited by the Queen who has her own royal box.