Site chosen in Hamilton CBD for new Waikato Regional Theatre

The new Waikato Regional Theatre is promised to have generous backstage and wing space - a major shortcoming of the 55-year-old Founders Theatre which closed last year due to earthquake risk concerns.

After months of research undertaken on behalf of the Momentum Foundation and Hamilton City Council, the Beaux Arts-styled Hamilton Hotel building in Victoria St was announced as the preferred site for a new full-size theatre for Hamilton and the region.

The only building of its design in Hamilton the 94-year-old building ceased to be a hotel in 1980, served as a location for the Left Bank Theatre in the 1980s and more recently has been largely unused.

Momentum Waikato Community Foundation chairman Leonard Gardner said the former hotel building was identified following a rigorous selection process by international theatre design consultancy Charcoalblue. This whittled 25 potential sites down to a short list of four which included the former Municipal Pools site, Garden Place and the rear of the existing Arts Post building.

The 6200sqm block backs onto the Waikato River
with Embassy Park on one side and Sapper Horace
Moore-Jones Place on the other.

Gardner said the facade of the category 2 heritage
building, currently in a dilapidated condition, would
be retained and restored to its former glory. The
new theatre would have a seating capacity of around
1200 and allow Hamilton to vie for major touring
shows and performances which it currently misses.

Business case and concept designs for the new
theatre will be presented to the Hamilton City
Council on August 24. At the same time the identity of a number of major private donors towards the about $55 million project will be revealed. The city council has already committed $30 million in principle. A public consultation period is expected to follow with a final decision near Christmas.

"At the same time there will need to be a fund raising contribution. Our role in the Momentum Foundation is to connect and convene," Gardner said.

Hamilton City Council events group general manager Sean Murray confirmed the new design would have a lot more backstage and wing space.

"We hope so - that's why we're doing this. We like the idea that the theatre can be accessed from the river and right in the middle of the city's hospitality district."

Meanwhile Murray said the Founders Theatre remains mothballed awaiting a decision on its future.
"The Founders is not in very good condition. We are waiting for the final decision on the Regional Theatre and then we will review our options."

Hamilton Hotel is owned by the Plaw family. Mitch Plaw said the family supported the new location and looked forward to working with the project team.