The ACT Government has made a significant down payment on a new cultural precinct in the city with a $30 million Budget commitment to the redevelopment of the Canberra Theatre Centre, including a new 2000-seat theatre.
The bulk of the funding, $28.44 million, will go towards detailed design work to shovel-ready stage and extensive stakeholder and community consultation, while $2.39 million will allow the start of essential workplace health and safety upgrades and resourcing to support the expansion and redevelopment of the Theatre Centre.
The government has funded preliminary design work in recent years, but this is the first major spend on the project and is being touted as a big step forward in its development and eventual construction.
Last year’s budget provided $4.4 million for the development of the business case for the theatre, works to the theatre and the adjacent Canberra Museum and Gallery.
The Canberra Theatre redevelopment funding is the centrepiece of the government’s cultural infrastructure package, which includes funding for Gorman House and Lanyon Homestead.
Arts Minister Tara Cheyne said the theatre funding reflected the government’s confidence in the arts sector but also recognised that Canberrans deserved a modern theatre that could deliver the full range of productions.
“We’re at a point where Canberrans are asking, where are the blockbusters Sydney and Melbourne are getting?” Ms Cheyne said.
“The cultural precinct as a whole is very central to our ambition as well, and providing appropriate funding sends that broader signal that we are a city that does value the arts and we are a city that wants to create much stronger cultural tourism.
“It’s already fantastic. We know that there is a market out there and we’ve got so much to offer to capitalise on that market. All these investments are reflective of one another in where we want to take our city.”
Nevertheless, breaking ground on the project may not happen until 2025 and completion may not be until 2028, if all goes well.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was expected that the government would go to the 2024 election with very clear set of commitments about the technical specifications of the new theatre and how it would interface with the existing theatres.
This would include the potential repurposing of the original Canberra Theatre as a flat floor venue, a possible 300-seat studio to replace the small Courtyard Theatre, and how the new theatre would sit within the broader arts and cultural precinct.
Funding for the project is expected to be a mix of capital works allocations and contributions from future land sales in the city. The broader cultural precinct is expected to include commercial components such as retail, hospitality, residential and a hotel, and Mr Barr suggested that a national broadcaster such as the ABC or SBS might be in the mix.
But a final delivery model is yet to be decided, and Mr Barr did not rule out approaching the Commonwealth for assistance.
“We’ll be undertaking further work on potential partners to come into the precinct, and that can be quite extensive and could include national broadcasters, for example, who have a history in other Australian cities sort of moving into these sorts of precincts,” Mr Barr said.
“So I’m confident that the work that we have funded in this budget will be progressed at a steady, consistent and diligent pace over the next couple of years that will allow us to make the construction investment decision and have a shovel-ready project over the next 24 months or so.”
Mr Barr said constructing a major new theatre for Canberra was an important next step in the evolution of arts and culture in the ACT.
“This Budget reaffirms the importance of the arts and cultural sector and our commitment to revitalising the city centre through the Canberra Theatre Centre’s redevelopment,” he said.
Ms Cheyne said the theatre would be the focal point of the precinct development.
“We also recognise that in the development of that precinct, everything flows from the theatre,” she said.
“The theatre is the centrepiece, and what happens around it responds to the theatre. This significant announcement will take a pretty big step forward in finalising those designs so that everything else can speak to what we want to do in the revitalisation of that entire precinct.”
The government will also spend $7.9 million on major heritage restorations and critical building upgrades at Gorman House Arts Centre in time for the site’s centenary in 2024. Mr Barr said a further $5 million in Commonwealth funding was also in the pipeline.
It will develop a strategic framework for the future management of ACT Government arts facilities, including an independent strategic infrastructure review and condition report, to inform future investment.
Nearly a million dollars will be spent on revitalisation and safety works at Lanyon Homestead with the former Nolan Gallery to be converted into administration space for ACT Historic Places staff, and ageing trees will be removed and replaced.