The future of Hamilton’s mothballed Founders Theatre has been unilaterally declared a Waikato-wide issue. Philippa Stevenson filed this report on N8N’s sister website Tamahere Forum.
“Founders Theatre is a regional facility, and an important asset to both Hamilton and the surrounding districts,” said Hamilton City Council’s executive director of H3 and Events Sean Murray in a statement on Friday.
That clearly took the Waikato District Council by surprise which, within minutes of the city’s media release, rushed out its own statement calling for wider discussion “before any single facility is treated as a regional amenity on an ad hoc basis.”
The tit for tat is unlikely to get in the way of Waikato – and Waipa – residents being polled for their views on the 54-year-old theatre’s future.
Who wants to know?
The city council, having unilaterally decided that attendance by people outside of Hamilton at Founders’ events is in sufficient numbers to warrant them being part of the discussion on its future, will include Waikato and Waipa in a telephone survey of 1000 randomly-selected residents around the region.
Should locals want to be prepared for a call the city council’s consultation documents are here.
Not our problem
Waikato Mayor Allan Sanson said the district council had not discussed the future of the Founders Theatre nor had it made any commitment to help fund it.
Sanson, who also chairs the Waikato Mayoral Forum, said there was “a wider discussion to be had about developing a regional approach to arts infrastructure overall before any single facility is treated as a regional amenity on an ad hoc basis.
“In principle Waikato District Council supports regional and sub-regional facilities, and we are prepared to enter discussions about the need for a regional and sub-regional approach to infrastructure that may be required,” he said. “For example, as part of the Waikato Plan, this Council has endorsed a regional sports facilities plan supported by the Waikato Mayoral Forum.
“We have also been presented with a report commissioned by Creative Waikato on the need for long-term regional and strategic planning for arts infrastructure. This council has not yet formally discussed the Creative Waikato report, nor has it discussed the future of Founders Theatre or whether or not it is a regional asset.”
In February, the city council brought the curtain down on the more than half-century old theatre because of safety concerns.
The key issues were that the building’s flying system, which hoists and lowers scenic backdrops and curtains and holds lighting equipment, had reached the end of its useful life. It could no longer get safety certification.
There are also concerns about the seismic strength of the building, and whether it could withstand an earthquake.
The city council has arranged for further seismic testing work to be done and expects to get the information in July.
The city council is considering three options for the future of the Founders – demolishing it at a cost of around $300,000, refitting for around $20 million, or building a new theatre for an estimated $52 million.