Last weekend the Queensland Government announced that its hulking arts complex, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) in Brisbane was about to get even bigger with an extra theatre to address the shortage of large theatre venues in the city.
Commercial producers have long complained that big touring musicals could be lined up like Airbuses at a single runway airport waiting for a take off at QPAC. The wait then impacted the timing, or even the viability, of a tour to other capitals.
The Palaszczuk government announced it would provide $150 million in the June state budget for construction of a 1500-1700 seat theatre which would also act as a new home for the Queensland Ballet. QPAC will chip in $25 million for the theatre which is expected to open in 2022. It will make QPAC the biggest performing arts complex in the country.
The previous LNP government had been in discussion with the Star Entertainment Group and Foundation Theatres about building a 2000 seat theatre in the CBD across the river from QPAC in the redeveloped Queen’s Wharf complex, but that is now redundant after the weekend’s announcement.
Those behind the Queen’s Wharf project were left choking on their coffee on Sunday morning when they read about the QPAC project in newspapers.
“Not quite how you expect to learn about a project which you have committed such significant resources to,” said Graeme Kearns, Foundation Theatres’ CEO. Since 2014, Foundation had spent $1 million on its plans to build a $100 million theatre in the Brisbane CBD (rendering of the theatre in main image above).
Foundation Theatres owns and operates Sydney’s historic Capitol Theatre in the Haymarket and the Sydney Lyric Theatre within the Star Casino. It had proposed its $100 million theatre would be next to Star’s Treasury casino, a site given by Star to the theatre operator on the basis that it could gain the necessary approvals to build it. The theatre would be ‘scaled’ to seat audiences of 1350, 1550, 1750 and 2000 – a “breathable theatre’’ system similar to that it unveiled at its Sydney Lyric last year.
The theatre owners had worked on the Brisbane project for four years and last year took the Queensland government’s advice to submit a ‘Market Led Proposal” (MLP) which would see the company provide $75 million for the theatre and the government put in $25 million.
“We asked the Queensland Government to contribute $25 million toward the construction of the theatre and Foundation Theatres would take the remainder of the construction and ongoing operational risk for the theatre, using a commercial operating model employed in theatres around Australia and the world,” he said.
“In the end game, we’re happy to see a new theatre being built in Brisbane which is in desperate need of new performing arts infrastructure. Our view is that a commercial theatre at the centre of an entertainment precinct in Brisbane would be more accessible and enjoy greater success than growing the theatre offering of a government funded performing arts centre.
“Given that QPAC will have it finished in 2022, it will certainly make a significant difference to the Australian touring market in the medium term. Although if you take a long-term view, it should have been be able to accommodate 2000 theatregoers. Sydney and Melbourne each have 2,000 or 3000 seaters to service the touring musical theatre markets.”
Foundation Theatres have now all but archived their plans for a CBD commercial theatre in Brisbane.
“No commercial operator will want to try to compete with a government funded goliath like QPAC given that it will be the biggest performing arts complex in the country. The business case for a commercial operator won’t stack up in Brisbane for decades,” Kearns said.