Opera House closure costs jobs

By Simon Hendery

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The Opera House has 15 full-time staff plus 40 part-time ushers. Photo / Glenn Taylor
The Opera House has 15 full-time staff plus 40 part-time ushers. Photo / Glenn Taylor

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule says his council is committed to restoring the earthquake-prone Hawke's Bay Opera House, despite a decision to lay off many of the facility's 15 staff because strengthening work will take up to two years.

The council closed the Opera House's 99-year-old theatre building to the public in March after discovering its side walls were earthquake prone.

Other venues in the Opera House complex were shut later the same month as a further precaution.

In a widely distributed email yesterday, Opera House chief executive Christine Spring said a decision had been made to disestablish the roles of all staff from today.

The Opera House has 15 full-time staff plus 40 part-time ushers.

"This is a decision that was not made lightly by the Hastings District Council and HBOH board, and comes after extensive investigation of the possibility of a temporary facility for the period of strengthening works," Ms Spring said in her email.

Mr Yule said the decision to lay off staff was made by councillors at a closed-door council meeting on Tuesday.

It followed a recommendation from the Opera House board that the company cease trading.

Staff were being consulted as part of a process which involved offering redundancy and, in some cases, the opportunity to take on roles within other parts of the council.

Early next month, the council expects to receive a peer review it commissioned of earlier engineering work that led to the facilities being closed.

Verbal advice received from engineers in recent weeks indicated repair work would take between 18 months and two years, Mr Yule said.

With that timeframe in mind, the Opera House company and council managers had gone through a process of investigating whether it was feasible to develop some form of temporary theatre building to meet the company's requirements while repair work was carried out.

But the conclusion was that would be "a pretty significant expense for probably not much reward," Mr Yule said.

"The board then recommended that it wasn't worth pursuing that, and that the council should close it in the meantime and concentrate on the rebuild in the shortest possible time." He said a number of venues in Hastings and Napier would be able to accommodate many of the Opera House's events in the meantime.

"[Events might need to be held] in different locations but we don't think we're going to lose a lot of the arts fabric of the community because they can be accommodated in other venues, certainly on a temporary basis anyway," he said.

"It's a big blow to us all but the focus now is on fixing it and getting it fully operational, complete with the earthquake code, as soon as possible.

"That's our focus and we will have some numbers around that early in June."

Napier City Council's venues manager, Glenys Fraser, said it was likely events which may have gone to Hastings would now look to use the Napier's council-owned Municipal Theatre.

"We will continue to try to accommodate as many events and shows as possible. We also have the newly reopened Century Theatre at MTG, which can house smaller shows. We would hope event organisers will continue to come to the region. If they have shows they believe will sell, there are still options available to them," she said.

Auckland-based concert promoter Brent Eccles, who regularly brings acts to Hawke's Bay, said his company would continue to do so while the Opera House was closed.

"We can work around it but I doubt Hastings people would be too thrilled about going to Napier all the time."

Ms Spring's email said Hastings District Council was considering the possibility of continuing with the external hire of the Opera House building Plaza facility, which is unaffected by the earthquake risk concerns.

The complex's Opera Kitchen cafe, alongside the Plaza, is also unaffected and will continue to operate.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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