Wellington's iconic St James Theatre reopens to public

Source: 1News

Wellington is used to its buildings closing because of earthquake risk, but on Thursday a city favourite reopened.

St James Theatre has been strengthened and is ready for its first performance in more than three years.

Contractors were working until the last minute to put the finishing touches on the grande dame.

The 110-year-old building has now been strengthened to 67% of the building code and has had a new paint job.

Gone are the mustard hues and in are the blush tones of the Edwardian era.

The ornate ceiling of cherubs was even hand-painted by heritage painter Tina Rae Carter.

"Her and her team were a bit like Michelangelo, painstakingly painting the whole ceiling," said Spencer Brown, who oversaw the project for engineering company Beca.

Along with its architecture, the theatre is known for paranormal activity.

Cue the practical jokes during construction.

"We had a couple of megaphones and had some wailing music playing," said Maycroft project manager Chris Kooge.

The only sign of seismic work are the large hydraulic devices in the window. Known as "viscous dampers", they give the building flexibility in a tremor.

The work has cost $41 million, $7 million more than originally budgeted for, and the opening was delayed twice.

"Each time we have a month’s delay all of the costs just rise. I think in keeping with what's been happening in the construction sector we're quite pleased with how we landed the price," Wellington City Council property services manager Peter Brennan said.

It’s the first reopening in a growing list of buildings closed for earthquake strengthening work in Wellington.

The town hall, central library and Reading Cinemas are some of the key buildings out of use.

Singer Teeks is playing with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night, the first performance at the theatre since 2019.

The three-night show is expected to draw in a crowd of 4500 people over the weekend.

"For this end of town, it’s particularly important for our hospitality sector and our accommodation sectors," Venues Wellington's Warrick Dent said.