By ALLISON HORE
A report released last week concluded it would be “feasible” for a much-loved Art Deco theatre in Potts Point to be resurrected. The conclusion is welcomed by the community whose impassioned pleas saw the building receive heritage listing last year.
The feasibility study was commissioned last year by the City of Sydney and Create NSW to investigate the possibility of bringing the Metro-Minerva back to life as a theatre.
The report, put together by Hawkridge Entertainment Services, concluded “it is clear that a commercially operated theatre provides a return that can be used to provide a return on capital costs which may be attractive to an owner/operator.” Similarly, the report said a government owned venue with a long term commercial lease would be viable.
The Art Deco building, which opened in 1939 as The Minerva Theatre, received state heritage recognition in December last year. Though the heritage listing guarantees the building will not be subject to unsympathetic renovations, it did not necessarily mean the building would be restored to use as a theatre.
However, the study recognising the viability of restoration brings the curtains at the Minerva another step closer to reopening.
Built in Hollywood’s golden age, the theatre is recognised architecturally for being a rare example of the Interwar Functionalist style and Streamline Moderne features. The theatre was converted into the Metro Cinema in 1950 before reverting back to live shows just a decade later.
In the 1970s the theatre fittings were stripped back and the building was transformed into a film studio for George Miller’s film and television production company. During its time at the Metro, the company produced more than twenty-five movies and TV series including Babe, Happy Feet and Mad Max.
Conclusion contradicts previous findings
Given its many lives a lot of work would need to be done to the building for it to be used as a theatre again. Current owners, Abacus Property Group, said they had “sought professional advice from theatre operators” on how the building could be restored and they deemed it wouldn’t be viable.
Works needed to be undertaken would include the mammoth task of rebuilding the original sloped gradient of the current floor level for appropriate audience seating and viewing.
But the new report, released this week, came to a different conclusion. It concluded reviving the theatre is viable, would provide a return on capital costs and generate great interest from producers and promoters. The report also indicated potential economic benefit and job creation more broadly for the Kings Cross precinct.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore hopes the owners will consider the conclusions reached by the report.
“I encourage the building’s current owners to read the study and recognise that the best use of this state heritage building is as a theatre,” said Ms. Moore.
“In returning live theatre to the Minerva they would make a significant contribution to the Kings Cross area and Sydney’s cultural life!”
The report found restoring the venue would have a positive impact on Kings Cross’s night time economy, a motive which “align[s] with a range of current policies from the City of Sydney, the state government and various industry groups.”
Earlier in February it was announced the last of Sydney’s lockout laws in Kings Cross would be lifted in March, paving the way for a thriving late-night sector in the area once again. However with the double blow of lockouts and COVID-19 many of the venues in the locale have shut their doors.
The report suggests a new theatre in the area could bring back some of the foot traffic, which has fallen significantly since the heyday of the Cross, for pre and post show dining and entertainment.
“Theatres and live performance venues have generally shown to have a positive economic impact on their surroundings,” said the report.
“Numerous studies have outlined the positive economic effects that these venues can have on the local area, the wider neighbourhood and the state.”
More diverse live shows
Within the theatre industry there was also enthusiasm about the idea of revitalising the Minerva. The report says the cost of revitalising the theatre would be “substantially less than” the cost of a new 1000 seat theatre.
Before the seats were taken out of the theatre to transform the space into offices, past information shows there were approximately 1,022 seats in the auditorium, with 617 in the stalls and 405 in the dress circle.
Although renewing the theatre would not alleviate the need for a new 1,500 to 2,000 seat theatre in Sydney, industry stakeholders said having another large theatre space would allow a more diverse range of shows to be put on as Broadway shows often have long running seasons in the few lyric theatres in the city.
“The limited number of theatres in Sydney has been a talking point and area of frustration for producers for a long time,” said the report.
“One of the outcomes of this is that generally larger and established musicals are able to access the larger playhouses (Capitol Theatre and Sydney Lyric Theatre) however newer musicals are not often given the opportunity to establish themselves in this setting.”
There is no plan in place as of yet for the theatre to be reinstated, however the study shows actors taking to the state in the Metro-Minerva again as they did eight decades ago would not just be “viable”, but also beneficial.