It is a building that has hosted the graduations of thousands of students, weddings and has been the stage for many great acts from American jazz legend Louis Armstrong to comedian Rowan Atkinson, but now the closing act at Founders Theatre looks to be the bulldozers as Hamilton City Council agrees to demolish the theatre and build a multi-purpose park.
The plan for the $3.6 million project to demolish the former theatre and build a new multi-purpose park on the site is now up for consideration in the council's draft 2021-31 budget, which the council discussed this week.
Founders Theatre has been closed since March 2016 due to safety concerns over the operation of the stage house fly system, fire and other safety hazard protection. The building, which opened in 1962, is also earthquake-prone. Past estimates for restoration have ranged from $12 million to $20m.
It took three rounds of public consultation before Tuesday's decision at the monthly full council meeting, and if the project remains as part of the draft 10-year plan, it would go out to public consultation for a fourth time.
There was a late plot twist in the tale of Founders - one with added mystery - as the building has just been nominated for heritage status by an undisclosed person to Heritage New Zealand.
A decision on the nomination will not be made until 2021, which means there could be hope yet for those fighting to save Founders, including the Theatre of The Impossible Trust.
But the plot thickens as a building owner could send in the bulldozers before any heritage decision.
Councillor Martin Gallagher also made a late amendment, saying to approve the demolishing and park project to allow for financial modelling in the 10-year plan; however, he asked the Theatre of The Impossible Trust (TOTI) to submit their formal business case and funding proposal to reutilise the Founders building as a multipurpose space, while also offering a council contribution of $3.57m - the cost of the demolish and park project.
TOTI had put forward a proposal as part of public engagement to repurpose the building into a multipurpose arts space.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said she supported the substantive motion, but understood the push for the amendment.
"The reason I can't support the amendment is not because I don't support TOTI coming to give a well thought out presentation during the 10-year plan, I absolutely do, but I also support any other group that will come as well," Southgate said.
"I can't see why we would give a preferential note to TOTI over other ideas that people might bring to the table.
"We've been brave enough to give a preferred option, but we shouldn't exclude the community coming with well formed ideas to the table in the 10-year plan."
Councillor Gallagher said the TOTI proposal was going to obviously involve significant funders.
"While they are called Theatre of the Impossible, we should look around whether or not we do a deep dive back into the heritage Founders Theatre site, to see if in fact there is a future for Founders," Gallagher said.
"I want you to visualise the demolishing as for those of us who see it as a heritage building, for many people over 60 years it is an incredibly significant building, and in the Waikato Kirikiriroa sense, I would consider this heritage."
Councillor Mark Bunting said he supported the original motion, but said he was not comfortable going out with a preferred option.
"We need to go in there with a very big open mind, and both the motion and the amendment push their favourite to the front and I don't want to do that going into the LTP," Bunting said.
"I'll keep an open mind going into it, I have to support one or the other so I will support the motion in this case."
Deputy mayor Geoff Taylor said the staff recommendation took the council forward in a preferred path.
"I think we have to be decisive on this," Taylor said.
"We've got to stop raising expectations when we don't have the dosh and at the end of the day there comes a time when you have to have the courage and make a decision.
"I don't think the majority of Hamiltonians want us to be talking about this in a year, or two years, or five years. I respect the nostalgia that many Hamiltonians have towards the Founders, and sometimes you just have to move on.
"The money is not there, so let's go on with it. We have the opportunity to create something special in the park which does justice to the Founders."
Councillor Angela O'Leary supported Gallagher's amendment, and has wanted to retain the building since discussions first started.
"I have sat around the table since we closed the theatre and have heard submissions and from consultation processes we have gone through, and sometimes it has been a bit muddy from a governance perspective with the council changes," O'Leary said.
"I am concerned with the heritage application, the report suggests that it could take up to a year and along with the heritage assessment report we have done ourselves that suggests Founders should be included as a B class heritage building, that is cause of concern for me."
The amendment was narrowly knocked back 6-7 with councillors Gallagher, O'Leary, Ewan Wilson, Maxine van Oosten, Dave Macpherson and Kesh Naidoo-Rauf voting in favour, while mayor Southgate, deputy mayor Taylor and councillors Mark Bunting, Rob Pascoe, Ryan Hamilton, Margaret Forsyth and Sarah Thomson voting in favour.
The motion was passed after the failed amendment, with councillors O'Leary, Gallagher and Macpherson voting against.