Theatre & heritage project goes to market

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Published: 23 Sep 2021

The ambitious project to bring new life to the Theatre Royal and build a new destination museum in the CBD will soon be going out to market.

Councillors unanimously approved an enhanced plan to demolish and rebuild the back of the Theatre Royal building including the stage house and changing rooms, restore and refurbish the heritage auditorium and build new museum and exhibition spaces, while only retaining the façade of the Criterion Hotel.

With the preliminary designs complete, the council will now take the project out to market for next stage works contracts. Due to commercial sensitivity, the overall project budget will be made public following the award of contracts.

The project – supported with $11.6 million from the Government’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, administered by Kānoa - Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit – is on track to start physical works by March 2022, with a forecast opening in late 2023 or early 2024.

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen said that a project this complex was always going to require a significant amount of preliminary work, but he was now keen to see it progress.

“The preliminary designs gave us an indication of what was needed and how the various parts of the project fit together. We’ve refined this initial plan in consultation with local stakeholders to land on what we think is the best solution,” he said.

“Our approach is that for a project of this scale, if we are going to do the work we should do it properly the first time, and although this may mean some higher upfront costs, Councillors felt it was important to get what the community wanted. This will ultimately deliver a better quality facility.

“This decision has got us to the point where we can confidently take it to market for the final design and build to deliver an amazing community asset that’s up to modern standards and fit for future use.

“There’s been a lot of work happening in the background on getting to this point, it’s going to be incredibly exciting to see final designs and boots on the ground over the next few months.”

Councillors were presented with three main options for the theatre at the meeting, the most expensive being to demolish everything and start with an empty site; a middle option to build a new building to house the museum, retain the theatre foyer and auditorium, but build a new backstage area that would connect to the new building; and the original plan to build a new building to house the museum and refurbish the whole existing theatre building.

By a unanimous vote, council selected the middle option and, following debate, passed a motion to preserve the façade of the Criterion as part of the new museum. The cost of the build will be negotiated as part of the tender process.

Manager Property Services and Client Representative Nicole Timney said this option enabled the council to invest in a significant asset for the community, and in the final design process there would be opportunities to work on the final cost.

“Like any major investment we have to carefully balance the needs of the sector to the cost to the community.

“While removing and rebuilding the back of the building, stage house and changing rooms, will increase the overall project cost, it also gives us the opportunity to better meet the needs of our stakeholders and theatre users, whilst still designing new back of house facilities for the museum building.

“This approach may also offer opportunities for us to better connect the civic centre facilities at the back and remove some of the access issues we would face refurbishing an older building. Ultimately this new civic centre will be a flexible space that can house arts and culture at all levels in the future.

“This is an exciting part of the project. Once we have our contractors on board we can work with a wide group of stakeholders and experts in respective fields to refine and perfect the design to deliver an amazing destination facility for our whole district.”

Physical works on the theatre upgrade and new museum are programmed to begin in early 2022 with a forecast opening of the new facility in 2024.

Last updated: 24 Sep 2021