To: Hon Kiritapu Allan
Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage

Tēnā koe Minister,

I write to you from Alert Level 4 lockdown in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. While this is an incredibly difficult time for many, the pause for some from day-to-day routine has provided an opportunity to interrogate the kind of city we want to walk back out into. There’s some critical mahi underway already, like the City Rail Link and plans to make Queen Street people-friendly. But as open letters from the creative arts and event sectors have also raised, there are serious concerns about the lack of support to weather this storm. We risk losing not only literal infrastructure and spaces, but the contributions of the people who bring them to life. 

As a Green and Auckland Central’s MP, I strongly back the calls from our creatives. This is fundamental to much of the work by our Green Arts, Culture and Heritage Spokesperson, Dr Elizabeth Kerekere. We hope to hear soon of the Government’s plans to support the people who have not only provided the content so many have consumed throughout lockdowns, but also channel the energy that will once again bring New Zealanders back out into theatres, concerts, art galleries and more.

On September 16th, dozens of those creatives joined myself and Steve Bielby, the man with the keys to St James Theatre, in a Zoom hui. It became crystal clear that there is immense community support for the restoration of this building, bringing to life an incredible ‘sweet spot’ for Auckland’s creative infrastructure: a venue of similar capacity to the Town Hall and Civic, but with far, far greater affordability, accessibility and ‘plug in’ capability for artists and performers.

You are possibly aware that the rebuild of the St James was green-lit in 2020 by the Infrastructure Reference Group as a Shovel Ready Project as it hit all of the necessary requirements: jobs, public and regional benefit and construction readiness. I understand then-Minister Shane Jones decided against funding it.

To bring this theatre back to life, $67 million is required. An adjoining planned apartment development is expected to bring in approximately half of this. Council, several years ago under the leadership of Mayor Len Brown, promised $15 million which is still on the table if the project can get off the ground. To bring everything together and make this happen, we need to find the shortfall of $15 million.

I am asking the Government to match the Council's contribution. I am copying in Mayor Goff to request his support in this ask for our city.

This is the cheapest ‘new’ venue Tāmaki Makaurau will ever get. Auckland is a UNESCO City of Music and the St James Theatre is key:

  • Location (the literal middle of Auckland’s ‘Arts precinct’, between the Art Gallery, Library, Civic Theatre and Town Hall)
  • Scale (2,400 in concert configuration and 1,500 seated)
  • Heritage (it was first opened in 1928 and is Category A heritage listed)
  • History (a plethora of local and international acts have played throughout its nearly 100 years)

You are likely aware that the impact of COVID has been felt profoundly by our City Centre. Fewer people have returned to work in office blocks after lockdowns, and the streets remain quieter at Alert Level 1. Committing to reviving the St James is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide the space and place the incredible creatives in our city deserve.

This funding can and should come with requirements. Mana whenua engagement - and I would suggest co-governance - community usage, local artist rates and the opportunity to pay it forward.

This is an incredible opportunity and I hope we can make it happen.

Ngā mihi,

Chlöe Swarbrick
MP for Auckland Central


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