Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Theatre project set to fail unless $23m turns up

The council has given the Auckland Theatre Company three months to come up with the money for its waterfront theatre project.
Photo / Greg Bowker
The council has given the Auckland Theatre Company three months to come up with the money for its waterfront theatre project. Photo / Greg Bowker

The curtain is set to fall on a $41 million theatre project on the waterfront unless the Auckland Theatre Company can raise $23 million in three months.

Auckland councillors yesterday gave the theatre company a lifeline to raise the money by May after officers reported it had managed to raise only $460,000 and failed to meet a December deadline to meet a series of conditions.

The city's longest-running professional theatre company is planning a 600-seat theatre alongside the new ASB Bank headquarters at the Wynyard Quarter.

It wants to build the theatre in conjunction with the development of the bank's headquarters and use the same contractors, in order to save money.

The ASB Bank is contributing a 200-seat studio theatre within its own building, a plaza area and a carpark towards the theatre project, worth about $6 million.

That has left the theatre company to raise $35 million for a new building on the site of Moana Fisheries in Halsey St, for which the council has included $10 million in its draft long-term plan conditional on the rest of the money being raised.

But enthusiasm for the project is waning around the council table after an officers' report showing just $460,000 has been raised from theatre patrons and "no substantial progress has been made in other areas", such as how to fund a $350,000 annual ground rent.

The report said the ASB Community Trust had deferred a funding application for $5 million until March and the Lottery Grants Board and the Crown had no funds available for an $8.5 million central government grant the theatre company was seeking.

Councillor Des Morrison supported finding a permanent home for the theatre company, but said the project did not have "a hope in hell" of starting construction on a revised date of July when issues of capital funding, operating costs and a business case had still to be addressed.

A previous supporter of the project, councillor Chris Fletcher, said the council was living in difficult times and the theatre was simply unaffordable, while councillor Sandra Coney said the debate had a familiar ring.

"People can be over-ambitious in what they think they can raise in capital funds and running costs, but unfortunately what happens in these situations is it comes back to the council to make up the shortfall," Ms Coney said.

Theatre company general manager Lester McGrath acknowledged that the arts group was working in a tough fundraising environment.

"We understand we have got a tight timeframe," he said, "and will do everything we can to meet it."

THE NUMBERS

$41m cost of new waterfront theatre

$6m ASB Bank contribution

$10m Auckland Council contribution

$460,000 theatre patrons

$23m shortfall

- NZ Herald

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