Auckland Mayor Len Brown has called for an urgent report on restoration of the St James Theatre - once one of Auckland's premier venues but closed since a fire in 2007.

Mr Brown said the theatre was one of the most iconic buildings in Australasia yet was an "open sore in the community ... sitting there rotting".

He made a plea for the council to explore options for saving the 1928 building yesterday, saying a new study on the city's performing arts needs did not deal with it.

The study, by consultants Howarth HTL, concluded that a refurbished St James could satisfy demand for a venue of about 1500 seats.

But the study said a new 600-seat theatre in downtown Auckland was the most urgent priority for professional performing arts.

Auckland Theatre Company wants to fill that order.

It is seeking $10 million from the council for a $40 million venue at North Wharf in the Wynyard Quarter.

Its request was yesterday referred by the regional development and operations committee for debate at the strategy and finance committee's budget meeting on May 25. But the vote to refer it was only 9-8.

Updating a 2008 study, Howarth HTL said the gap between Q Theatre (460 seats and opening in September) and the ASB Auditorium (2000 seats) had been widened by the withdrawal of the 700-seat SkyCity Theatre from the market for most professional shows.

"The St James Theatre does not address a current high priority need for a professional performing arts venue.

"A refurbished St James could meet the future opportunity identified for a venue with a seating capacity in the range of 1400-1500 seats."

The study said a business case for St James Theatre could not be considered without also assessing the case for the ASB Auditorium and the Civic Theatre.

They were linked to a proposal for a national convention centre being weighed up by the Government. Auckland Council's The Edge is a contender.

A revived St James could compete for opera, ballet and commercial shows as well as "mainstage" touring shows.

"We understand that council estimates are that the capital cost of a full refurbishment of the St James Theatre to provide a venue of 1400-1500 seats would be in excess of $65 million, excluding the price of securing ownership of the building," the study said.

The building is owned by Paul Doole, who has consent to build a 39-level apartment tower next to the St James, but says he does not have the money to renovate the theatre.

Last year, SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge started the lobby group St James Saviours, and the Herald ran a campaign to save the ornate Spanish colonial-style building.

Mr Kerridge said yesterday Mr Brown was patron of the Saviours and he hoped there was not too much of a delay in doing something about the building.

It was vulnerable to the fate of other neglected Auckland heritage buildings which had urgent demolition orders because of structural safety worries.

He said the $65 million restoration figure was the "grand scale" version of other cheaper stages of renovation that should be done in the interim.

A first step would be to buy the building so its fate would be "at least in the hands of the city who will move towards preserving it".

RESTORATION WISH LIST
* $65 million to restore the 1928 St James Theatre.

* 1400-1500 seats would be in the newly refurbished theatre.

* A 600-seat theatre is a higher priority.

* Auckland theatre company is seeking $10 million from the council towards a venue in Wynyard Quarter.