Wellington City Council considering Festival of the Arts payout after St James Theatre delay

Wellington City Council is considering a $300,000 payout to the New Zealand Festival of the Arts after delays to getting the St James Theatre re-opened on time.

The Category 1 Heritage listed building is currently closed for earthquake strengthening and refurbishment work.

The theatre is an important venue for the New Zealand Festival of the Arts, which is scheduled to take place from February 2022.

The building alone represents about 30 per cent of the festival’s usual ticketed programming.

Construction was meant to be finished by the end of this year, but recently published council documents have confirmed the theatre will not be ready in time to host the festival.

Council officials have recommended giving the festival an extra $300,000 of operational funding from the Covid Response Support fund to help deliver a revised programme.

Since learning the theatre will not be open in time, the festival has come up with a new programme using alternative venues including a 1000-seat performance space at the TSB Arena.

The extra money is needed for the cost of adapting alternative venues in the absence of the St James Theatre.

WellingtonNZ, the region’s economic development agency, has also agreed to a reduction in venue hire rates.

The council’s Social, Cultural and Economic Committee deputy chairwoman councillor Nicola Young said the theatre was “getting there”.

But she said the council couldn’t work miracles and the job had to be done properly.

“These things happen and the council will be standing absolutely beside the festival as a strong and committed partner and as the owner of a beautiful but difficult building, which will be fantastic once it’s done.

“This festival is a wonderful legacy for our city and we have to look after it.”

Earlier this year the council’s quarterly reporting signalled the construction completion date for the theatre was “continuing to slip”.

“Issues being managed include largely due to seismic gaps, water leaks, resource availability, agreeing pricing, and design detail,” the report said.

The project has also experienced issues with the procurement of various materials from overseas because of Covid-19-related shipping delays.

Despite this, council officials said at the time they were still expecting to complete construction work on the site in December, to hand the building over in early January 2022.

It was on this basis the festival had been encouraged by the council and
WellingtonNZ to deliver a suite of events at the St James Theatre to coincide with its reopening.

The New Zealand Festival of the Arts has been approached for comment.

The St James Theatre is an Edwardian purpose-built theatre constructed in 1912.

Just $17 million was originally allocated for the building’s latest earthquake strengthening project, which then doubled in a budget blowout to about $33m.

The current budget is now almost $37m.

The theatre is rated at somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent of the New Building Standard (NBS) and is being brought up to 67 per cent.

Anything less than 34 per cent NBS is considered earthquake-prone.

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