Gordon Moller: Theatre offer shouldn't be wasted

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A waterfront theatre would be not only a catalyst for greater artistic endeavour but also a source of pride and inspiration for the people of Auckland. Photo / Supplied
A waterfront theatre would be not only a catalyst for greater artistic endeavour but also a source of pride and inspiration for the people of Auckland. Photo / Supplied

Tomorrow the Auckland Council makes decisions for its long-term plan that will affect two visionary projects: a new waterfront theatre and a path and cycleway across the harbour bridge. Gordon Moller puts the case for the theatre.

Worldwide, the finest cities share a number of values. These values ensure they achieve the right balance of economic prosperity and cultural identity.

They recognise the role arts and culture play in shaping their citizens, creating healthy communities and making cities desirable, attractive and vibrant places in which to live.

The challenge for Auckland is to be the most liveable city in the world. It is proven that arts and culture have a pivotal role in achieving this aim.

Melbourne's Lord Mayor attributes its recognition last year as the second most liveable city in the world (and continual position in the top three) by the Economist Intelligence Unit to its "...

combination of liveability which includes ... our arts and culture and the very substance of our city".

Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane have all invested substantially in performing arts venues for their flagship theatre companies.

We have a unique opportunity now to build a world-class dedicated performance venue for theatre and dance on Auckland's waterfront. Not only will it be a catalyst for greater artistic endeavour but it will be a source of pride and inspiration for the people of Auckland.

Last year Auckland Council commissioned Horwath HTL to update its study of the professional performing arts venues in Auckland. Horwath reported back that a new 600-seat theatre in the central city is the highest and most urgent priority for the performing arts sector as a whole. Mid-sized performing arts theatres are recognised internationally as the most successful size and format for the delivery of high-quality drama.

For Auckland Theatre Company, the present venue shortage is critical to its operation. The company is now putting together the season for next year and sketching out plans for 2014 and 2015. Yet again we are struggling to put together a string of seasons at existing venues where there is enough capacity to deliver a year-round programme in a sustainable manner.

Despite playing to 80,000 people annually and delivering highly acclaimed education, literary and participation programmes, Auckland Theatre Company is the only regionally significant theatre company in Australasia without a permanent home venue available year round.

ASB Bank's decision to shift its head office into Wynyard Quarter has created an opportunity to develop a high-profile, world-class home for theatre and dance on the adjoining site.

The prospect presented is site specific, unique and not to be repeated. It is made possible by $6 million of value being contributed by ASB for the theatre complex facilities contained within its head-office development.

The facility will comprise a fit-for-purpose stand-alone 600-seat theatre, which integrates with a 200-seat auditorium in ASB's head-office development. The facility will be built around an open courtyard which can host outdoor performances, screenings and community events, creating a vibrant and dynamic destination for all visitors to Wynyard Quarter.

The complex will be regionally, nationally and internationally significant, contributing to the vital role that arts, culture and events will play in delivering economic, cultural and social benefits to Auckland.

A theatre for the waterfront delivers clear, identifiable benefits for the residents, ratepayers and stakeholders of Auckland. An expert assessment by PricewaterhouseCoopers of the economic benefits points to $8.59 million a year of extra spend and an impact on direct waterfront GDP of $3.72 million a year. Seventy five jobs will be created. A theatre for the waterfront leverages the council's existing investment in Wynyard Quarter including the Viaduct Events Centre, and makes the area an even more attractive place to work, live and play.

A fit-for-purpose performing arts theatre leverages existing public and private investment in the creative sector by providing a home for Auckland Theatre Company and supplying other performing arts organisations (including the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the NBR New Zealand Opera) with a space to present contemporary works.

The development of a waterfront theatre is aligned with the council's strategic vision and is consistent with the council's long-term plans to make Auckland the world's most liveable city by 2040. The theatre development is also aligned to Waterfront Auckland's plan to create a place for all Aucklanders - a destination acknowledged for its outstanding design and architecture and a place where we can express our cultural heritage.

The development of Wynyard Quarter as a world-class, mixed-use waterfront precinct makes it an ideal location for a performing arts complex - particularly when it also adds value to other developments taking place in the Quarter.

The combination of theatre, auditorium, courtyard, cafes, restaurant and function rooms will attract new audiences to the theatre and Auckland's waterfront. It will also maximise opportunities for corporate sponsorship and patronage. Close to Britomart, and with 2800 carparks available within 900m of the theatre, the location could not be better.

Outstanding waterfront cities around the world recognise the economic value a performing arts facility can deliver.

There are unique synergies which are created when a performing arts facility is located near passenger terminals, visitor centres, conference facilities, hotels, restaurants, innovation or education precincts, and a public transport hub.

There is the ability to put together a world-leading public and private collaboration to fund the theatre construction. Leveraging off ASB's visionary approach to its head-office development, the theatre complex capitalises on the public's ever-growing excitement for a revitalised waterfront. Members of the public who have generously made both large and small donations to the project have done so in large part because of the contribution it will make to Auckland's waterfront.

The theatre on the waterfront is a great opportunity for Auckland. To realise the full cost-saving benefit of the offer from ASB Bank means the opportunity must be seized. The venue shortage problem won't go away until a mid-sized theatre is built, but if this opportunity is not taken the solution for Auckland in the future will be substantially more expensive.

Gordon Moller, ONZM, is an architect and chairman of Auckland Theatre Company.

- NZ Herald

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