A region-leading, international destination for the arts.
That's the "ambitious" aim for Rotorua's renewed Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre.
Some say the improvements would help increase revenue and be an economic benefit to the community, but others have concerns about the delays and the cost of the project.
The Rotorua Lakes Council's Strategy, Policy and Finance committee heard an update on the progress of the project on Thursday.
About 20 people from various performing arts groups joined the public gallery for the update, including film actor Cliff Curtis and Te Arawa kaumatua Sir Toby Curtis.
Council arts and culture general manager Stewart Brown told the committee that before the upgrade the performing arts centre was under-utilised.
"It simply could not deliver on this vision in its current state and without investment."
The building, which was built in 1931 and was a Category 1 historic place, was also earthquake-prone and had issues with asbestos and water-tightness, he said.
He said improvements would include an increased capacity to 1000 seats, a flexible black-box theatre seating 300, improved facilities, studios that would allow recording with "opportunities for the film industry" and earthquake-strengthening the building from 25 per cent to 80 per cent.
He said the changes would make the building market-competitive.
"Our spaces will be enhanced, high fit-for-purpose … increased revenue, economic benefit to the community, enhanced community wellbeing."
Concept plans presented at the meeting had changed from the last council update. The external foyer now represented a wharenui and aimed to integrate the stories of Te Arawa and Ngāti Whakaue, as well as Sir Howard Morrison himself.
Council operations manager Jocelyn Mikaere said a contract would be presented to the council at the end of September.
Council performing arts director Cian Elyse White said the key difference between the performing arts centre before its closure and its future aims was shifting from a "local venue-for-hire model" that was responsive to the local community's needs and a "humble virtual presence" to "acting and thinking global".
Part of that was capitalising on Te Arawa's reputation as the "cultural capital of Aotearoa".
"We really want to take this opportunity to uplift and platform Rotorua as the indigenous arts epicentre of the Southern Hemisphere."
Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post outside the meeting, White said the vision for the performing arts centre was ambitious but it was "growing with our community".
She said there would be production offices on the mezzanine level of the building that would be useful to film companies, such as Cliff Curtis' Steambox Film Collective.
"It will really create that hub environment. The community was calling for it because there is such a growth in the industry … at a community level and also at a professional.
"It is ambitious but it is time because of what the community is doing. We're really just matching their needs."
She said before the borders opened, the centre could reach a global audience by online means, and had done so during the alert level 4 lockdown, reaching half a million people with online concert Lockdown Soul Sessions.
She said the upstairs parts of the building had the potential to be used as film soundstages.
She understood there was interest in funding a film studio in Rotorua.
"Rotorua has been identified as the next ideal location to become a major film spot."
In August it was announced a $5.6 million action-thriller, Vegas, would begin shooting in Rotorua later this year.
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said the local arts community had taken a "hammering" since 2017 when the centre closed, and called the progress "terribly exciting".
"Out of the ashes comes something quite significant."
However, it was not all applause for the renewed direction.
Outside the meeting, former councillor, Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers chairwoman and Rotorua Musical Theatre member Glenys Searancke said she was concerned about the delays with the project.
"They [the council] need to consult the people that have worked in that theatre. The presentation did not outline any of the changes we believe have been made.
"We are also concerned about the spiralling cost."
The project had originally been costed at $17.9 million but secured $22.5m in mid-2019, which was made up of $11.5m from the council and the remainder from external groups such as the Lottery Board, Glenn Family Foundation, and Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust.
A council update on September 3 stated $3.17m had so far been spent on the performing arts centre.
The update said it was expected 64 per cent of the construction budget would be spent with local contractors "or contractors that have an office here".
The centre is scheduled to reopen in 2021.
In response to Searancke's comments, council operations manager Jocelyn Mikaere said there had been "ongoing consultation with key stakeholders, and in particular the local performing arts community" throughout the project to date.
"This feedback has all been considered and acted upon where appropriate and possible, and the current design reflects that feedback.
"We are working with a very complex Category 1 heritage building – the upfront planning and investigation work has been necessarily comprehensive and takes time. That has also been exacerbated by Covid-19."
She said the detailed design was complete, resource and building consents had been granted, and pending council approval, construction would get underway next month.
• A public presentation on the project is scheduled for midday on September 15 at Te Aka Mauri / Rotorua Library.