Community & Environment

Council seeks final feedback on Founders Theatre site

It’s time to decide what should happen on the Founders Theatre site.

Hamilton City Council today (17 September) unanimously approved a four-week community feedback process on three options for the Tristram St site.

Founders Theatre has been closed since March 2016 due to safety concerns over the operation of the stage house fly system, fire and other safety hazard protection.

The building, which opened in 1962, is also earthquake-prone. Past estimates for restoration have ranged from $12M to $20M.

This is the third time the general public have been asked for feedback on the site since it closed.

Sean Murray, the Council’s General Manager Venues, Tourism and Major Events, says it has been an evolving process, with the proposal from Momentum Waikato to lead development of new theatre emerging from the first round of community engagement.

The regional theatre proposal is now a reality, with the new venue due to open in late 2022 on Victoria St. The Council will contribute a total of $25M. The new theatre cost is $77M and construction is due to start in the new year. The theatre will be owned by a trust on behalf of the community.

Mr Murray says the West Town Belt Masterplan, adopted in September 2019, has also provided direction for the Founders Theatre area.

The community feedback process will begin on 5 October and run for four weeks. It will include open days, so people have the opportunity to ask questions about the options.

Hamiltonians will be asked whether the Council should reinstate the site as a basic park or create a community park suitable for events, community activities and informal play. The second option supports the vision of the West Town Belt Masterplan.

The Council is also inviting interested parties to submit a proposal for a third option that keeps the theatre partly or fully intact. Submitters will need to specify how their option will be funded.

The options are based on extensive community and Council discussions and assessments over the past three and a half years.

Under the first two options, the theatre building will be demolished and the Dame Hilda Ross Memorial Fountain will be retained.

Mayor Paula Southgate says the community may have fresh ideas on how the Founders site can be transformed into a vibrant space that reflects Hamilton’s changing profile.

“The area around Founders has an increasing number of apartments and townhouses so this space will be a very important, particularly for inner-city residents.

“We have a chance to do something really interesting here that gives inner-city residents accessible green space, is a drawcard for residents and visitors to connect with our central city and provides a gateway to the West Town Belt. It could be a really wonderful community space,” Mayor Southgate says.

She says it is important any development of the site acknowledged memories of Founders Theatre and the central role it has played in the city’s history.

“People have very, very fond memories of Founders, including me. We now have an opportunity to do something really fabulous with this site that will also create memories for our city going forward.”

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