21 Jan 2016

$22m Blenheim theatre delayed as date with Kiri looms

2:01 pm on 21 January 2016

The planned opening of a $22 million theatre in Blenheim next month has been put off until March because of building delays.

A concept sketch of the new Marlborough ASB Theatre in Blenheim, set to open in March.

A concept sketch of the new Marlborough ASB Theatre in Blenheim, set to open in March. Photo: SUPPLIED

Marlborough mayor Alistair Sowman said they had the pedal to the floor as a date with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa loomed. The world famous soprano included Blenheim in her six-centre New Zealand tour this year, and will be performing in Blenheim on March 22.

The new Marlborough ASB Theatre, which had been years in the planning and creation, was a big deal for the whole top of the South Island, Mr Sowman said, but there was nothing like a looming deadline to get a project finished.

"They've got to get it done before Kiri comes, or there will be trouble," he jokingly warned.

Dame Kiri's appearance would be a fitting tribute to the efforts of all who backed the project, which had been driven by the Marlborough Civic Theatre Trust, Mr Sowman said. It had raised the millions needed through sponsorship, grants and council funds.

The Trust was formed in 1974 following the demolition of His Majesty's Theatre, with the aim of establishing a new theatre for the Marlborough community. A 300-seat theatre was opened in 1985.

The new, much larger ASB Theatre Marlborough is to be a multi-use and purpose built venue, built overlooking Blenheim's Taylor River.

The two-theatre, 700-seat venue would bring region-wide economic benefits, Mr Sowman said.

"It's future building really. The old theatre was about 340 seats and this one's now 700 so it's a big jump - expensive project but I think it's great for the future of this province."

He expected it would strengthen Marlborough's economic position in the top of the South Island.

Nelson has been without a primary civic venue since the temporary closure of the Trafalgar Centre in late 2013 due to earthquake strength concerns, and many acts and events have bypassed the city. The centre was currently being rebuilt, and was due to be re-opened this year.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese saw the development in Marlborough as potentially good for Nelson as well.

"I don't see the Marlborough centre as being a threat to Nelson - not at all, in fact I do think it could be complementary in the mix of what's on offer in the top of the south," Ms Reese said.

"The Trafalgar Centre will be re-opened later this year and one of the opportunities we're looking at, at the moment, is creating within the Trafalgar Centre a Trafalgar Theatre - a 1000-seat theatre space, and feedback we've had from promoters is that they're really keen to come to Nelson, they love the Trafalgar Centre but they'd like a smaller space and we think we can create that."

Ms Reese said the focus needed to be on ways to create economic opportunities across the top of the South Island, without regions "cannibalising" each other.

Mr Sowman said the Blenheim theatre had experienced several glitches, including changes midway through construction, with the introduction of tougher new earthquake standards into the design.

He said measures to mitigate liquefaction risk had added $4 million to the cost.

"When we first looked at the project it was $10 million to do up the old (theatre) and $12 million to build a new one so we went for the new one, but it's now up to $22 million because of a few issues that have arisen along the way."

The council had contributed $5 million to the project, Mr Sowman said. An application to the Lottery Board Grant application for $3 million was declined last year, so the Marlborough Council stepped in as loan guarantor to enable the theatre construction to be completed. The council loan would be uplifted if the trust did not succeed in getting the money from the government it had asked for.

The theatre would be open in the second week of March, but the issue was how soon all areas inside the theatre could be finished, the Trust said.