Community & Environment

Founders Theatre decision confirmed

Founders Theatre

Hamilton City Council looks set to proceed with its long-held plan to transform the Founders Theatre site into a multi-purpose park and community performance space.

Council’s Community Committee confirmed the decision today, declining to support an alternative proposal from charitable group Theatre of the Impossible (TOTI) to re-purpose the building.

In May 2021, TOTI was given until 31 December 2021 to provide a fully-costed business case for a new use for the theatre. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a further three-month extension to March 2022 was granted. Today’s decision means the TOTI proposal is now off the table.

Founders Theatre, which opened in 1962, was closed in 2016 due to significant safety concerns. The building has since been identified as earthquake prone with estimates for restoration ranging from $12 million to $20 million.

Council has consulted with the community three times since the building’s closure, seeking guidance on what to do with the site. In the most recent consultation in 2020, 84 per cent of submitters supported Council’s proposal to create a multi-purpose park as part of the Western Town Belt.  The park will include purpose-built facilities to meet the needs of the community and include special interpretation of its historic significance, the re-instatement of its fountains and space for open air performances.

As approved in May 2021, the multi-purpose park is part of the 2021-31 Long-Term Plan funded activity – the Founders Theatre site upgrade project ($4.008 million in Year 2).

Following the closure of Founders Theatre, Momentum Waikato came forward with a proposal on the design, development and construction of a new Waikato Regional Theatre.

Since then, work has begun on the new $75 million theatre, supported by $25 million of Hamilton City Council funding as well as contribution from central Government and private contributors.

Mayor Paula Southgate applauded and thanked TOTI for the energy and commitment the Trust had put into its proposal.  She noted the huge amount of good work done by TOTI on behalf of the city in the past. But good intentions were simply not enough, she said.

“We had asked for a fully-costed business case, but unfortunately that was not forthcoming, and we did not get the certainty we needed. There was simply not the confidence in the room that TOTI’s proposal was viable given there were no funding sources identified. Neither was there conditional funding agreements in place that we would have expected to see in a business case before committing our city to millions of dollars.”

Today’s Committee recommendation is to be ratified at a full Council meeting in May.

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