Over 100 Objections to Minerva Theatre Development Application

Metro Minerva Theatre Action Group - Media Release - 11 October 2021

Over 100 objections to developer Central Element’s Development Application to convert the Minerva Theatre Potts Point into a hotel have been received by the City of Sydney. 

Among these objections is an important submission by renowned architect Andrew Andersons who has been involved in the design of many performing arts buildings. These include Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Capitol Theatre, Ros Packer Theatre and City Recital Hall, all in Sydney, as well as a number of smaller venues elsewhere.

The Minerva Theatre is an art deco masterpiece and has received increasing recognition and attention since its sale to Abacus Group. The Minerva was recently awarded state heritage inclusion under the NSW Heritage Act and is subject to conservation orders.

In his submission to the City of Sydney, Andrew Andersons carefully details a master plan for the Minerva Theatre’s return as a 1000 seat working heritage theatre, meeting all of today’s fire and safety codes and contemporary standards in public and artist amenities.

Andrew Andersons said:

There appears to be a gap in the range of Sydney venues for a mid-range 1,000 seat theatre, similar to Melbourne’s Comedy, suitable for productions of smaller scale than those that suit the Lyric and the Capitol.  A venue of this size would also allow highly successful productions from smaller theatres to transfer to a larger house, reach larger audiences and enrich the performing arts scene in Sydney.

“At the time of its opening in May 1939, the Minerva Theatre set a new benchmark for the comfort of its audiences of 1031 people in terms of seating dimensions and its state of the art air-conditioning system.  All of this was housed in a building of the highest architectural and aesthetic achievement, unmatched elsewhere in Australia and strongly emblematic of its time.  The dimensional aspects of seating, aisles and escape pathways are essentially the same today as they were in 1939.

“There is every reason to restore this remarkable building to its original use.  This would make a tangible contribution to Sydney’s cultural life and to the quality of the much-loved Potts Point neighbourhood.”

Crucially, Andrew Andersons’ submission provides answers to the barriers and problems identified by the Arup report which argue against returning the building to theatrical use.  The Arup report was commissioned and paid for by developer Central Element to assess the viability of returning the Minerva to theatre use.  Many experts within the live entertainment industry have been critical of the Arup report claiming that it identifies issues and problems but fails to provide solutions. 

Importantly, the NSW Government through Create NSW commissioned Hawkridge Consulting to conduct a feasibility study.  The study was co-funded by NSW Government and the City of Sydney.  More recently NSW Government additionally requested Hawkridge to conduct further examination into the Minerva.  The reports identified unequivocally that there is commercial market interest and it is viable to reopen the theatre.

The latest report also refutes the Arup report and essentially concludes, like Andrew Andersons’ submission, that the Minerva is viable to return as a theatre and is in high demand from the live performance industry, and that specialist, reputable venue operators are keen to operate it.

The latest Hawkridge report has been submitted to the City of Sydney by Create NSW.

Century Venues who operate a suite of live performance venues in Sydney including the historic Enmore Theatre said:

“We have recently had a development application approved by the City of Newcastle and the Heritage Council of NSW for the 1891 Victoria Theatre Newcastle.  If this building, which is a very similar size to the Minerva, but 50 years older and has been closed as a theatre since 1966, converted to shops and substantially altered and then left derelict for 15 years is viable to restore, then so is the Minerva which has been kept in pristine condition. The Minerva is infinitely viable to return and be made viable to operate as a 1000 seat theatre – it certainly would be under our watch.”

Legendary Commercial Theatre Producer John Frost said:

“The Minerva Theatre Kings Cross presents a brilliant opportunity to address a decade long issue that has plagued Sydney, our industry and our artists…the lack of theatres in Sydney will often delay the entry of productions into Australia for years or cause their cancellation.  The shortage of theatres in Sydney negatively impacts the rest of the country.  There is also significant local work, product and companies that are inhibited because of the lack of venues.”

“There is no independent mid-sized theatre in Sydney where transfers can be readily housed from the Hayes, the Ensemble and the plethora of small playhouses such as Griffin at the Stables, Redline Productions at the Old Fitz and even Belvoir St.  There is no mid-sized theatre for performing arts companies who are in need of additional performance space: Bangarra, Sydney Dance, Bell Shakespeare, Pinchgut Opera, etc.  It would also be ideal to accommodate seated concerts that cannot play the State or the Enmore.

Support for a reinstated Minerva Theatre goes beyond purely the commercial Musical sector, with Olivia Ansell, Director of Sydney Festival saying: 

“Sydney’s commercial and subsidized theatre industry has long been impacted by a lack of sufficient theatre spaces available to house main stay work toured by international and Australian promoters, festivals, producers, and theatre companies.  Lack of availability has often delayed the possibility of a Sydney season, with promoters favouring other Australian cities to premiere new work.

From the perspective of Sydney Festival, venue availability for short run seasons is an ongoing challenge, in particular for variety, circus and cabaret work, which often requires expensive temporary infrastructure due to a lack of permanent venue availability for the festival to access.”

 Additional industry support has been offered by PAC (the peak body representing venues, presenters, producers) Sydney Theatre Company, MEAA, Sydney Fringe Festival, Live Performance Australia, Australian Theatre for Young People, Sydney Dance Company, Hair Director Jim Sharman, Singer Marcia Hines and writer, presenter and comedian Mark Trevorrow (better known as cult icon Bob Downe).  A more extensive list can be viewed in the dropbox.

The Minerva project represents an extremely rare opportunity to provide Sydney with a much-needed major theatre asset and to return an art deco masterpiece to the purpose for which it was built.