Roof of St James Theatre – Photograph by Tinaz Karbhari

By Georgie Foot

St James Theatre, in the heart of Auckland’s city, is in the process of being mothballed. However, plans to restore the theatre are on the horizon.

Steve Bielby, principal trustee for the Auckland Notable Properties Trust has high hopes that the theatre will be restored in the near future.

“We are working on getting a consent for restoration,” says Bielby, “however cannot do that until we have all the funding.”

The theatre was forced to close in 2007, when a damaging fire in adjacent building caused authority to question the safety of the buildings construction.

The cost to restore the theatre is estimated at $175million, which, as this point, is not a feasible option says Bielby.

Instead he plans to mothball the theatre until funding become available.

There is a $60million difference between mothballing and restoration. So for Bielby, this seems like the most probable way forward.

For the past 2 years, Steve Bielby has worked for the Auckland Notable Properties Trust, whose target is to restore historical buildings around Auckland.

On August 28, 2015, a 50-person survey was conducted on social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, to examine if the public supported restoration of the theatre.

Being such a historically famous building in Auckland, it seems many people are intrigued by St James’s story, are following its journey closely and are in support of its progression.

Thirty-six out 45 responses were in favour of the restoration.

Lucy Morton, one of the 50 people randomly surveyed, feels very strongly about the reopening of St James Theatre, saying that, “ theatre is an important part of Auckland’s arts and restoration of the theatre will greatly benefit this art form.”

Another response from the survey was from Claire Mourits. Although a strong advocate for theatre, she doesn’t support the plans to restore St James Theatre.

Mourits believes that, “ the money could go towards something far more worthwhile,” and says Auckland already has plenty of spaces for theatre, “so this restoration will achieve nothing.”

Yet, Bielby justifies this project by saying that it speaks for itself. “Every show we’ve done has sold out. There hasn’t been a show at St James Theatre, that hasn’t been a full house,” says Bielby.

On August 27, 2015 for example, St James Theatre was host to Stolen Girlfriends Fashion Show. The Spanish renaissance-style foyer of St James Theatre was once again filled with vibrancy and life as Stolen Girlfriend models used the aged mezzanine floors of the theatre as their catwalk.

Built in 1928, the theatre has been the home to many famous and world-class performances including the Royal Variety Performance for Queen Elizabeth II in 1981.

Now construction workers, trucks and life can be seen emerging from the doors of the theatre, as the mothballing process is underway.

The new theatre will include significant upgrades that are up to the modern standards that productions and shows require. Yet there will always be an element of the buildings history maintained through the interior décor according to Bielby.

Contacts:

Steve Bielby

021527526

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