The Founders theatre was built to last 50 years and it did. The sudden closure is a sad example of a lack of earlier action by the Hamilton City Council to keep it going until refurbishment/replacement could occur in a seamless fashion. However, while we can play the blame game, because it makes for more interesting reading – I prefer to concentrate on “where to from here?”. The HCC has initiated a period of consultation with the public and offered three options. Restore, Rebuild or Demolish.
My initial reaction to news of it’s closure; was to conserve the existing building. I strongly believe that buildings help add character and tell a story in a city – except…. the Founders Theatre isn’t old enough…. or architecturally attractive enough to warrant this. I couldn’t find a lot of support for the theatre being saved on heritage or nostalgia basis which led me to reconsider my initial position.
It always comes down to money.
The use of ratepayer (or taxpayer) money for the arts is a contentious issue, it probably always will be. The cost of a complete rebuild is about $50 million dollars (or $69 per year for 20 years for ratepayers). That is a heck of alot of money – especially when the median income in Hamilton is $27,000 a year. I can understand why some people or parts of the community don’t think it’s appropriate to spend on non-essential services given our housing crisis and growing inequality are more pressing. However, the Council has a role to play in ensuring they provide facilities congruent to what any other comparable city would have – this includes a suitable theatre. This is why demolition isn’t an option to me. While a restoration (which is still preferable to demolition with no replacement) is alot less at about $20 million dollars, I don’t think a refurbishment would cater for “future Hamilton”. Effectively an “expensive” band-aid. I think we need to start thinking bigger and more towards the future (100 years). It’s cheaper to build it now than it will be in the future. So if we can start from scratch – we can create a venue with thought given to the longer term.
It’s time to be excited about the future.
If we go down the path of a rebuild it does not have to be in the same location. In my opinion, the best place without a doubt is for that rebuild to be at Ferrybank. The Council (and therefore City) already owns the land between Victoria street and Gratham street. Currently on that site we have the Municipal pools and the Celebrating Age Centre (which I currently use for Ferrybank Market). Building a multi-functional venue in a central location – with an overall aim to boosting tourism (by also being a River based Tourism hub for cycling, walking and water taxis) also creates wonderful opportunities to create a sense of community and vibrancy that is lacking in the city at the moment. A rebuild here not only brings arts to the centre of our city (as it should be) but ties the Central City Transformation Plan and the River Plan more meaningfully than any other initiative I’ve seen so far. This is something the future generation will thank us for doing. Yes vision comes with cost…
The existing “plans” for Ferrybank aren’t particularly intriguing and I’m doubtful that developing for the sake of it would be beneficial for the city. Despite how much I like Ferrybank and want to see the river utilised, I would not have voted for the Ferrybank development as proposed earlier this year. A concrete anchor project would make it meaningful.
This argument hasn’t even touched on the most important aspect which is our wonderful arts community whose contribution to our city cannot be underestimated. We MUST show support for the musical, theatrical, artistic and creative minds who offer so much of themselves to our city every day. They create a city worth living in and a grass roots entry for the Waikato’s high calibre creative minds and young people. Our future.
I’ve just submitted the online form to “Have my Say” in the future of the Founders theatre. Consultations are open until June 30th so if you have an opinion please make sure it counts by submitting the form too. I have put my hand up and am running for a seat in this year’s local body elections. If elected in, despite my personal view (above) that we need to rebuild – I believe this decision is one that needs to be led by “the average Hamiltonian” and would vote according to the submissions received and public opinion. It’s your city – you need to have your say.