Questions are being asked within Canberra’s arts community about the progress of the proposed Cultural Precinct project in the city, including a new Canberra Theatre.
Architects Warren and Mahoney, and urban planners and designers Oxigen, were commissioned in 2018 to provide a design plan for the Precinct but it has not surfaced.
That’s left some stakeholders wondering whether the process is drifting, with the City Renewal Authority continuing to talk in high-level, abstract terms but no actual design plan or business case are in sight.
The completion of the nearby Constitution Place project has also raised expectations about when the Cultural Precinct will be developed. There are also doubts about the ongoing roles of the Library and Canberra Museum and Gallery.
But Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the ACT Government remains committed to developing the precinct in the coming four to eight years, “subject to planning approval and prevailing economic and investment conditions”.
He did not say whether the COVID-induced economic slowdown and the worsened Budget situation would delay the project.
But a draft plan was expected to be released for public consultation in mid-2021, that will ”establish clear principles” for new buildings and the improvement of public spaces within the area.
Its key objectives are to support the arts and cultural offering within the precinct, strengthen day and night time economic activity, improve the connectivity and appeal of the area, undertake public space improvements, and provide flexible spaces that can serve a wide variety of community and cultural uses throughout the year.
Mr Barr says the Plan will also recommend connections to other key ACT Government infrastructure projects such as Stage 2 of Light Rail and the raising of London Circuit at its intersection with Commonwealth Avenue.
”While the broader precinct plan is being developed, the government will improve pedestrian connections to the area via City Hill, City Walk and Garema Place,” he said.
”There will be a focus on improving pedestrian links to adjacent city transport and services. The government’s objective is to make Civic Square a better and more frequently used public space.”
The centrepiece will be an expanded Canberra Theatre with capacity for about 1,800 to 2,000 patrons, and the existing venue potentially repurposed with a flexible flat floor suitable for standing, cabaret-style and live music events.
The precinct could also include more flexible spaces for live music and rehearsals and experimental and local performances.
”The fine detail of options for the redevelopment of the Canberra Theatre continue to be discussed with relevant stakeholders and will be subject to a future business case for the project,” Mr Barr said.
He says the precinct plan will also guide future land releases, such as the nearby surface car park, to ensure the development is of a quality befitting the location.
A detailed timeline will be established when the plan is finalised.
Mr Barr reiterated that the Cultural Precinct remained the government’s development priority ahead of a new stadium and convention centre, in that order.
The proposed Cultural Precinct spans from Constitution Avenue to Northbourne Avenue and is bordered by London Circuit to the east and City Hill to the west. It also includes Ainslie Avenue from London Circuit to City Walk.