Debt-free arts centre envisaged

An architect’s impression of the proposed $70 million Wānaka arts and culture centre, which it is...
An architect’s impression of the proposed $70 million Wānaka arts and culture centre, which it is hoped will be completed by 2030. IMAGE SUPPLIED/RTA STUDIO
More details have emerged about Wānaka’s proposed arts and cultural centre, which now has a projected cost of $70 million and a galaxy of high-placed New Zealand "ambassadors", including former prime minister Helen Clark, prepared to back it.

The proposed costs of developing the centre would be split between the proposer (the Wānaka Arts and Culture Charitable Trust, $30m) and ratepayers (Queenstown Lakes District Council, $40m), with the trust providing project management and fundraising expertise and the council providing the land and additional operating cost subsidies over the first five years.

The goal is to complete a council-owned, debt-free performance centre by 2030.

Trust chairman Michael Sidey said the trust already had pledges of $2m.

"We have pledged funds for when the project becomes live, donated by supportive members of the public.

"This will allow us to employ an architect, project manager etc immediately we know that the performance and visual arts facility will be built," Mr Sidey said.

Wānaka’s community-initiated arts and cultural centre project first surfaced in 2021 and was initially discussed in Queenstown Lakes District Council annual plan and 10-year plan deliberations as potentially costing $50m-$60m.

Joining Miss Clark as an "ambassador" are Central Otago actor Sir Sam Neill, Dunedin businessman Sir Ian Taylor, international concertmaster and violinist Justine Cormack, of Queensberry, and stage and screen veteran Rima Te Wiata.

Mr Sidey said a meeting with the Wānaka Community Board last week about the centre went "very well".

"We received informed questions and, yes, we are encouraged.

"They required further background information, particularly on the details of the feasibility study."

The trust’s feasibility study was completed by Horwath HTL last year and concluded an arts and culture centre was viable.

"[There were] no secrets but we requested and were given an invitation to present. Everything is in the public domain. Transparency is very important to us as it is a large regional community project," Mr Sidey said.

The trust’s own fundraising goal of $30m would include the $2m already pledged.

A professional fundraiser had also offered fundraising services as a contribution to the project.

The trust had reduced a list of 10 possible sites down to six and was now progressing on that detail.

"It is likely to be on council-owned land, which we hope will be gifted to the trust," Mr Sidey said.

Public consultation would happen once the trust knew it had a confirmed project, he said.

"Doors are always open, of course, and we are regularly meeting interested parties.

"However, until we have a live project there is little more to report," Mr Sidey said.


For Wānaka arts and cultural centre 2024: raise $2 million gift from public

Jan 2025: project sign-off, engage architect and project manager, begin capital campaign, begin naming and branding exercise

2027: Build begins 

2030: QLDC-owned, debt-free arts and culture centre opens

The proposal

 - 500-seat theatre

 - 120-seat rehearsal theatre

 - Visual arts gallery/Kāi Tahu display

 - Kitchen and cafe

 - Ticket office/foyer

 - Outdoor performance space