St James Theatre

The Historic Places Trust says the St James “enjoys high public esteem as a major place of recreation in Auckland”.

Three years ago Bob Kerridge established the St James Saviours – including big-name international stars like Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Alan Bennett – to raise funds for restoration. New Zealand Opera, Royal New Zealand Ballet and Auckland Philharmonia are all on board – all have expressed a desire to make the venue their Auckland home.

The current owner, developer Paul Doole bought the building in the early 1990’s and subleased it to dance party organisers.

Mr Kerridge claims Mr Doole has no desire to upgrade the theatre and his main interest is in building a 28-storey apartment block above it. The developer has consent to do this.

But Mr Doole says his apartment building will be built next to, not on top, of the St James. The development would include restoring the original tower that was chopped off in the 1960s.

“I’d preserve the entry to the theatre and recreate what was there before,” Mr Doole says.

He has agreeed with council to strengthen a wall adjoining the theatre in order to build his apartments. He says any other improvements would be up to whoever buys the theatre.

“The building has been kept waterproof, is checked once a month by carpenters and could be brought back to what it formerly was.”

The developer wants it restored as it would enhance his apartments: “I don’t want a rotting building next door” .

The trust made a submission to Auckland Council’s long term plan on April 27. The council agreed to funding for seismic strengthening. It has also published a report on costs of reinstatement, suggesting work be done in stages. Mr Kerridge is pushing for the most comprehensive option but admits it’s possible only the theatre itself could be restored.

“It depends where the boundaries are and what parts of the complex can be purchased. The surrounding buildings would make an excellent home for rehearsal rooms, master classes and other things needed for the theatre.”

He says the theatre is one of the finest in New Zealand which, if restored, would attract performances that up until now couldn’t be accommodated.

Extracted from an article, Bob’s theatre of dreams, written by Andre Hueber. Published The Aucklander 28 June 2012