By JOHN MOYLE
After eighty-one years of standing proudly in Orwell Street, the landmark Kings Cross theatre, the Metro/Minerva, is finally on the State Heritage Register.
The announcement yesterday (Thursday, 17 December) was made jointly by the Lord Mayor Clover Moore and NSW Minister for the Arts, the Hon. Don Harwin.
The culmination of more than 18 months work by the City of Sydney, the Minister for the Arts, the Metro/Minerva Theatre Action Group, the Art Deco Society and many other heritage and community representatives, the State Heritage listing strengthens the heritage listing already granted by the City.
“It was already on the local heritage listing and the City of Sydney nominated it to go to the State register,” Cr Moore said.
“I am so delighted that the City of Sydney nominated this and I know that the building means so much to the community,” Minister Harwin said.
“During the consultation period there was overwhelming support for the local community and this is what a council should be doing, supporting the community to ensure that its heritage is preserved.”
For the Lord Mayor, it has been a long journey after motions for the City to purchase the theatre by councillors Kerryn Phelps and Christine Forster were defeated.
“This is something that we did with the very strong support of the community,” Cr Moore said.
“It is a really important part of the ambience and the environment of this part of Kings Cross.”
In August of this year, the City of Sydney and the Minister for the Arts announced a jointly funded feasibility study into the restoration of the theatre.
This study is yet to be released, though both the Lord Mayor and the Minister hinted strongly that the report would favour the restoration of the building to a working theatre.
“I can also announce that the City of Sydney and the State Government have received a copy of the report that was jointly funded on whether this old theatre has a future, even today, as a performance space in Sydney,” Minister Harwin said.
Brandon Martignago, President, Metro/Minerva Theatre Action Group said: “This feasibility study is moving in the right direction from the City and State point of view and is making sure that Sydney is seen as the nexus or cultural capital of the Asia Pacific region.”
The Minister made the point that Sydney had already given up too many of its theatres in the past and that the Metro/Minerva represented an opportunity too good to miss.
“It would be fantastic news for Sydney if this old theatre had a life again and that would mean that this Kings Cross/Potts Point area will gradually start to change into a new type of night time economy, which is very much what the City of Sydney wants,” Minister Harwin said.
To get a new 1,000 – 1,200 seat capacity theatre open in Sydney is now almost impossible due to the cost of land, the lack of available space and the $75 million or so required to build it.
After a life as one of Sydney’s premier theatrical theatres in the fifties, the Minerva was bought by cinema producers and exhibitors Metro Goldwyn Mayer, resulting in a name change to the Metro.
The theatre ran as a cinema until Harry M Miller installed the first Australian production of Hair in the venue for a record breaking two years.
By the late seventies, the building’s identity was unclear and it was purchased by film and television producers Kennedy Miller, who operated from there until 2018 when George Miller sold to listed storage company Abacus Group for $19.8 million.
Abacus kept the building dark and refused to disclose their intentions until October this year, when they announced that they were submitting a DA to the City of Sydney to renovate and operate the Metro as a retail and co-working office facility.
This seems doubtful as Sydney currently has a glut of office space and, in the time of Covid-19, most people have become used to working remotely.
Abacus then went on an expensive publicity campaign in order to assuage their lack of consultation or support in the community.
They set about talking down their own building by claiming that too many changes had been made to the building for it to be considered again as a theatre space.
Abacus also claimed that they had spoken with a number of private parties and were unable to “achieve a commercially viable outcome that would ensure the Metro’s longterm sustainability”.
The Sentinel understands that these parties included a well known chef and a pop singer, as part of a consortium wanting to install a theatre/restaurant experience.
Through their MetroProject website, Abacus also claim that they have strong community support, though this writer has yet to meet anyone who knows anything about their intentions.
Abacus Group were contacted for comment but failed to respond.
Both the Lord Mayor and the Minister stressed that as the owners, Abacus’s rights were to be respected, but that the listing also made it clear that there was now a show of community, council and state government opinion.
“By standing here today and speaking, the owner will know what the State and the City would like to see happen,” Cr Moore said.
“The next stage is making sure that the person who buys it, if Abacus want to sell, does what they promise to do, and what the feasibility study and the heritage listing says is required,” Minister Harwin said.
The Metro/Minerva Theatre Action Group realises while this is an important step in seeing live performances return to the theatre, there is still much to be achieved.
“For us it is about maintaining the course,” Brandon Martignago said.
Disclaimer: The author of this article is a member of the Metro/Minerva Theatre Action Group.
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