Curtain falls on theatre proposal

Hopes for a new, multimillion-dollar theatre for Dunedin appear to be lost, after a Dunedin City Council committee voted yesterday to agree with a report that found it was not needed.

An alternative plan to redevelop the city's theatres at a cost of at least $14 million will now go into the mix of spending options in next year's annual plan.

A plan for a new 800-seat theatre in Dunedin has been on the agenda since at least 2000.

A council report late last year proposed a theatre be built at a cost of between $17 million and $35 million, and early this year the council ordered a further report on the issue.

That report, from consultant Deloitte, was released last week and rejected the idea, though its assertion an 800-seat theatre was not needed was not fully supported by a "touchstone group" of people used for consultation.

A report from arts management consultant Nicola Robb, of the touchstone group, argued a mid-size theatre was "feasible and necessary", and Dunedin was well positioned to fill what was an identified gap in facilities.

The lack of such a theatre meant Dunedin was considered "a difficult and uneconomic" destination for performances.

Feedback from the group noted a survey by Deloitte was too small to be statistically relevant.

Others in the group agreed with Deloitte's recommendation.

At a community development committee meeting yesterday, Kyle Cameron, of Deloitte, said there was not enough demand for the theatre.

That did not mean there was not a gap in Dunedin for a theatre of that size.

"We're not saying it would not be an outstanding facility," he said.

But a new theatre would cost a great deal, and the consultants had not seen sufficient tangible evidence the city was missing out on shows that would be attracted if a new theatre was built.

Most promoters they had spoken to had told them touring shows needed to attract more than 1000 people to make money.

Asked about suggestions from touchstone group member Peter Entwisle Deloitte had not considered the option of the council buying the former His Majesty's Theatre, now Sammy's, Mr Chapman said that option was considered.

But the building was on a long-term lease, and it would be "presumptuous" to think the lessee would want to give it up.

The survey some members of the touchstone group were concerned about was not relied upon in final decisions.

There was considerable debate yesterday, with Cr John Bezett arguing the idea had somehow "grown legs", and a better option was to consider the Regent Theatre's needs in isolation.

There was little support for a new theatre, and the committee voted for the options recommended in the Deloitte report.


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