Scott Kara: Let's revive the St James

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Scott Kara says we should save Auckland's best live music venue, the St James Theatre.

Mayor Len Brown and his council have been decidedly quiet on the St James.
Mayor Len Brown and his council have been decidedly quiet on the St James.

You can rest easy, because this column will not mention the royal what's-his-name. Nor will the name Jackie Thomas be uttered. Indeed, I have something far more important to talk about: the fate of New Zealand's best live music venue.

The St James Theatre - a formerly glorious and magnificent venue on Queen St across the road from The Civic which turned 85 years old this month - has been out of commission for many years now.

Since a fire in 2007, it has languished unused and, no doubt, is falling down through neglect. From the outside these days it's looking tattier than ever, with some of the old signs being pulled off - or perhaps they fell off? - the exterior.

I've talked about the plight of this place before in these pages. And despite pleas from many other quarters - the Herald ran a campaign, SPCA boss Bob Kerridge is behind a trust dedicated to saving the theatre (it was the flagship cinema in a chain owned by his father Sir Robert), there is a dedicated Save the St James Facebook page with 8000 supporters, and Labour MP Jacinda Ardern is also an advocate - the powers that be at Auckland Council don't seem to want to save it.

The St James is owned by property developer Paul Doole. In a story I did on the theatre in 2007, it was revealed Doole had plans for a 36-storey block of apartments on the site - though the theatre would not be affected because it is a protected building and can't be demolished. However, the council do have the power to - at the very least - look at ways of preserving the theatre and, ultimately, getting it back up and running.

Mayor Len Brown is up for election again this year and while he loves turning up at Laneway every year to hang out with the cool kids, he and his council have been decidedly quiet on the St James, which is a far more precious and needy musical case at present.

The mayor has said in the past that something needs to be done - but nothing has, yet. Let's hope he makes it one of his election campaign issues. It's not like it needs to be a top priority that his mayoralty hinges on, but just a minor one perhaps.

Because while the SkyCity Convention Centre gets the royal nod from John Key and this week Creative New Zealand committed $4.5 million to the Auckland Waterfront Theatre Project, the St James sits dormant and dilapidated.

I admit my passion for the theatre has a touch of selfishness about it, because the city needs a live venue of the size and class of the St James. Because while The Powerstation is great - and the second-best live venue in the country - a venue like the Studio just doesn't cut it.

The St James is the place I saw the mighty Slayer rip shit up in 2007 - and it remains one of my top five gigs ever. Yes, mostly it was because of the songs, but hearing and seeing the band in that grand and majestic setting was an awe-inspiring - and beautifully brutal - experience.

In fact, Len, if you need a campaign song, then I'm sure I can suggest something by Slayer.

Read more: Save the St James' Facebook page

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- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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