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Transformational Projects

Waikato Regional Theatre

Momentum Waikato’s role is to convene, connect and align generous people in the Waikato to create a better Waikato for everyone, forever. We were asked by generous donors to ensure their generosity and vision makes the greatest positive impact on the community we all love.

The Momentum Waikato board is committed to creating intergenerational change in the region.

The Waikato Regional Theatre project will deliver on the transformation the board wishes to see across the Waikato. The board members are dedicated to working with the community to realise this transformational opportunity for our region.

More than just a theatre

"Kapunipuni. As a verb, it means 'to come together.' As a noun, it is 'the place where we gather.' Every city needs both a tangible sense of place and a purpose, where we gather to celebrate, tell our stories and find a sense of identity and community."

Leonard Gardner, Chair, Momentum Waikato

We have an exciting opportunity to create a vibrant, creative precinct for the city and region.

The new Waikato Regional Theatre will be a world-class facility and a community asset. Its success will be measured by the quality of the performances it hosts and the shared experiences and identity it creates.

Co-location of creative industries will activate neighbouring properties and spark development, creating a new cultural hub in the city.

There will be opportunities to utilise space, skills and expertise for educational programmes. We want every child in the Waikato to have the chance to stand on the same stage where they can see the best performers and stories from across the Waikato, New Zealand and the planet.

Integration of open courtyards and public performance spaces, with linkages between the city and river, will create a sense of place where people will gather. Hospitality will encourage activation during the day and for evening shows.

By working together on this project, we have created the opportunity for a creative precinct we can be proud of - something that brings our communities together and celebrates our region's vibrancy and cultural diversity.

View the Waikato Regional Theatre project history

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The location chosen for the new Waikato Regional Theatre is the Hamilton Hotel site in the South End of Victoria Street, see below.

The new development will retain and restore the façade of the old Hamilton Hotel, which is recognised as a heritage building. The site currently has a range of restaurants and bars and is bordered by the Embassy Park with the Riff Raff statue to the north and Sapper Moore-Jones Place (formerly Marlborough Place) to the south, and runs down the river.

For more information on the site selection, refer to location questions in the FAQs below

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Waikato Regional Theatre needed?

When it was identified that the Founders Theatre in Hamilton was unsafe and no longer fit for purpose, an opportunity arose to create a new ‘town hall’ for the Waikato. A performing arts centre designed from the outset to provide its audiences with high-quality acoustics, sight-lines, access and comfort. A flexible space that can be quickly and easily reconfigured, able to host everything from ballet and orchestras, to kapa haka and rock gigs, to plays and musicals, to dance and stand-up comedy.

A key element of a cosmopolitan lifestyle is regular opportunities to experience world-class performances from a wide range of genres; and an ambitious, astute and caring community enables its young performers and artists to stay in their own home town or region to follow their dreams.

To realise these dual aspirations here in the Waikato, a centrally located, modern, iconic venue is required. A stage on which our young people can both see and participate in a wide variety of the performance arts.

By virtue of the ambition of its scale, nature and site, the new Waikato Regional Theatre (WRT) will be transformational for Hamilton and the Waikato. With a range of public spaces and offerings in and around the building, this will be a living, breathing creative hub and a bustling attraction that will forever change how the CBD and the wider city and region are seen, serviced and settled.

Why was this CBD site behind the old Hamilton Hotel chosen for the new Waikato Regional Theatre?

After many months of public consultation and investigation of international best practice, the theatre project’s consultants and governance panel recommended the proposed 5,395m2 site behind the old Hamilton Hotel in the South End of Victoria Street, between Sapper Moore-Jones Place and Embassy Park.

The WRT Location Study Report summarises detailed assessments of 25 sites around Hamilton, including the Founders Theatre site. Consideration was given to factors such as urban design, available space, access, transport, mana whenua, landscape design, site history and development controls. Stakeholder and community feedback showed a clear preference for enhancing the city centre and making the most of the river.

The chosen site has a rich and relevant history, cultural contexts for manu whenua and immediate connections to Victoria Street and the Waikato River, as well as excellent access to restaurants, hotels, public transport, residential areas and private parking facilities.

The new theatre’s central location and range of events and other offerings will attract a broad demographic and age range. Bringing a potential 1,300 theatre patrons into the city centre every weekend will generate new development, business and jobs.

Current perceptions the city centre is unsafe will be overcome by greater foot traffic, not only by those attending shows, but also those taking advantage of related attractions in the theatre complex at all times of the day.

What will the Waikato Regional Theatre look like, inside and out?

For a tour of the Waikato Regional Theatre, see the video at the top of this page, produced by Charcoalblue. From March to May 2020 you can also step into a Virtual Reality of the auditorium at the Smart Space at the front of the Hamilton Central Library.

How many seats will be in the theatre’s auditorium?

The Waikato Regional Theatre auditorium, in its most open configuration, will seat an audience of 1300 patrons.

Venues currently operating in Hamilton provide seating capacities both greater and smaller than the proposed new theatre. The Meteor seats 200 and the Clarence Street Theatre can take 300 to 550, while the Claudelands Arena is set up for 6000 and FMG Stadium Waikato for 25,800. The Waikato Regional Theatre’s 1300 seats therefore fills the gap in the capacity range left by the demise of the Founders Theatre.

What sorts of performances and shows will be able to be staged in the Waikato Regional Theatre?

The Waikato Regional Theatre’s auditorium will be able to be reconfigured to host a wide variety of performance genres. Acoustic features and a wide stage will enable orchestral concerts, rock gigs and performances such as kapa haka. A drop-in proscenium arch will then allow for plays and other more intimate, small-scale performance. And a variable orchestra pit will be used for musicals.

The flexibility of the staging and arches allows for the quick turnaround of show set-ups, meaning the venue can host multiple performances within any given day.

Will educational programmes and other community activities be able to be run in the Waikato Regional Theatre?

A central intent of the Waikato Regional Theatre project is to provide a stage on which young people can see and be inspired by world-class talent, and then learn and perform on themselves. Even if they don’t land up in performance careers, the skills and experience gained on the stage positively impact lives, ultimately benefiting us all.

The flexibility of the theatre auditorium, its generous foyer and indoor-outdoor zone and variety of break-out spaces will play host to all manner of educational and other mass community activities, from dance exams and theatre tech training, to graduation ceremonies and civic events.

A letter of support for the theatre project states: “My experiences as a Principal taught me how important it is to provide authentic learning contexts for young people. What is more authentic than productions in a professional theatre to inspire, grow and celebrate talent? Proposed courses and qualifications in stagecraft in collaboration with the theatre would also provide much needed local expertise in this specialist area.”

How much will the Waikato Regional Theatre cost to build and kit out?

The budgeted cost of the Waikato Regional Theatre is $73 million.

How is the Waikato Regional Theatre being funded?

The building and kitting out of the Waikato Regional Theatre is being funded by a mix of public, trust and philanthropic monies.

Major commitments as of late 2018 include $25 million from the Hamilton City Council (equivalent to the cost of the repairing Founders), $5 million from the Waikato Regional Council (proportionally levied on regional ratepayers, based on distance from Hamilton), and $15 million from Trust Waikato.

The balance is currently being raised through philanthropic donations for individuals and trusts, fundraising, sponsorship and applications to relevant central government entities.

The Hamilton City Council is also committed to providing $1.1 million per annum towards the maintenance of the theatre building.

Who will own the Waikato Regional Theatre?

The Waikato Regional Theatre will be owned by the newly formed Waikato Regional Property Trust (WRPT). It will be the client for the build, will own the land, building and operating company. It will build a maintenance fund, starting with the Hamilton City Council’s $1.1 million annual contribution, to ensure effective maintenance and major refurbishment programmes over time.

The land the theatre will sit on is being gifted to the project by the current owner and will in due course be owned by the Waikato Regional Property Trust.

Who is on the Waikato Regional Property Trust?

The WRPT was established through an electoral college system whereby an independent panel identified the criteria and skills and experience required for the trust and then ran an advertised public process seeking expressions of interest.

This culminated with the appointment of chair Ross Hargood and trustees Scott Ratuki, Ken Williamson, Belinda Mulgrew and Julian Elder in October 2018.

What is Momentum Waikato’s role in the Waikato Regional Theatre project?

When the Hamilton City Council realised that the Founders Theatre had become unsafe and required at least $25 million to simply repair, Momentum Waikato stepped forward and offered to initiate and coordinate the project to strategically identify, consider and consult on the options for providing Hamilton and the wider Waikato with a modern performing arts facility of a similar scale.

Once the scale of the undertaking was confirmed, Momentum Waikato committed to continue as project coordinator and to raise the balance of the funds required to build and kit out the theatre. Ultimately, once this has been achieved, Momentum Waikato will step back from direct involvement and the Waikato Regional Property Trust will take over as the owner and operator of the new facility.

The Waikato Regional Theatre is the first of Momentum Waikato’s ‘transformational projects’, a major element of its mission as the region’s Community Foundation.

Who will operate the theatre and direct its creative programme?

The Waikato Regional Property Trust (see above) will determine the best approach to the operational aspects of the theatre. This may include a separate operating company to run it, or a contracted entity, or a business unit within the Trust.

Who is designing the Waikato Regional Theatre?

The Waikato Regional Theatre is being designed by the Melbourne studio of acclaimed international theatre architects Charcoalblue, in partnership with leading New Zealand architects Jasmax.

See the Waikato Regional Theatre pages on Charcoalblue’s and Jasmax’s websites.

Charcoalblue’s WRT project lead is Eric Lawrence and acoustic designer is Byron Harrison.

Jasmax’s WRT project team is led by David Pugh and Jun Tsujimoto.

Who is building the Waikato Regional Theatre?

The tendering process to build the Waikato Regional Theatre opened in late 2018, a construction contract is expected to be granted in the first half of 2019.

When will work start on preparing the site and building the theatre?

Preparatory site work for the Waikato Regional Theatre, including the demolition of unrequired buildings and structures, is expected to start in mid-2019.

Is the ground of the riverbank solid enough for a big building like this theatre?

Yes, the engineering of the Waikato Regional Theatre is more than sufficient for a building of its size on this riverbank site.

The site geotech survey included drilling to a depth of fifty meters at several locations within and next to the building’s intended footprint. The engineering response to the soil information has been to found the building on bored cast-in situ piles, some of which will be 50m deep, bound together by a reinforced concrete raft slab, which will distribute loads from the columns and walls to the piles and tie the structure together at ground level.

Project architects Jasmax have decades of experience designing large public buildings for New Zealand’s quake-prone geology, including Te Papa in Wellington.

For more information refer to page 87 of the WRT Preliminary Design Report.

How much disruption will there in the South End of Victoria Street during the construction of the new theatre?

Construction and associated truck movements will inevitably have some impact on the South End, however every effort will be made to minimise disruption to retailers, hospitality and residents in the area.

Momentum Waikato is working closely with the Hamilton Central Business Association to ensure that neighbours to the site are keep fully informed on developments, timelines and challenges.

Where will theatre patrons park their cars?

There are a number of parking buildings nearby and private parking will be freed up for evening use by theatre patrons. In due course, the proposed pedestrian bridge will make parking across the river viable.

A report by Flow Transportation Specialists in March 2018 states “A more detailed assessment of parking availability and demand for the theatre will be undertaken as part of the ITA [Integrated Transport Assessment]. This will include a travel management plan, and a site visit where walking routes will be assessed. However, based on this preliminary assessment which shows a high volume of parking capacity within a five minute walk, it appears that existing parking provision within the Hamilton City Centre is sufficient to provide convenient car parking for Waikato Regional Theatre patrons who need to drive.”

However ultimately, the theatre, as a busy hub of constant creative and social activity, will transform the CBD, prompting more inner-city car-free living, which in turn will enable the development of more extensive public transport across the city and region.

How will trucks be able to get into the theatre from Sapper Moore-Jones Place?

The design of the theatre’s service entrances and loading bays, together with the reworking of Sapper Moore-Jones Place, will enable truck access. This video shows the NZSO’s largest truck demonstrating that it will be able to get in and out with the space provided.

How will the new theatre impact on the Riff Raff Statue and Embassy Park?

Momentum Waikato and the Waikato Property Trust are working with The Riff Raff Public Art Trust and the Hamilton City Council with a view to further redevelopment of the popular and quirky Embassy Park next door to the theatre site, which has been refreshed by the Riff Raff trust over the last five years.

The Riff Raff Statue, marking the birthplace of The Rocky Horror Show, will remain in place, where it will be close to the entrance of the new theatre, with more space behind it. The other creative elements in the park will be retained to the greatest degree possible.

Some levelling and clearance of the lower park will be required to facilitate access to the theatre, the extent and nature of which is still to be determined, as it is also subject to factors such as a proposed river walkway and other neighbouring developments that are still to be confirmed.

How does the new theatre connect to the proposed new hotel next door?

A new hotel will be built on the actual site of the old Hamilton Hotel by a developer associated with the current land owner. Viewed from the street, the Waikato Regional Theatre will sit behind and to the left of the new hotel and will open out on to Embassy Park.

Will the Hamilton Hotel frontage be retained when the theatre and hotel are built?

Yes, the Hamilton Hotel façade will be retained as part of the adjacent hotel development.

How do I make a donation towards the Waikato Regional Theatre?

Donating towards the Waikato Regional Theatre will really make it *your* theatre. Already Hamilton and Waikato people of a variety of means have made large and small contributions, including those who have expressly targeted their gifts to specific aspects of the theatre.

One such friend of the project is Steven Smith, a stalwart of Hamilton’s musical theatre scene who has targeted his gift towards the theatre’s music stands, because he is looking forward to seeing them used by some of the world’s top musicians - read more about Steven’s contribution.

To simply make a donation to the theatre, visit Momentum Waikato’s donation page and select ‘Waikato Regional Theatre’ when presented with the options there.

If you wish to make a large donation, and/or represent an organisation or business that wishes to be a partner in the theatre project, and/or wish to secure naming rights for some element of the building, please contact Momentum Waikato’s Development Director.