Metro-Minerva Theatre caught in a political seesaw

The Metro-Minerva Theatre Action Group wants the historic site restored to its former glory as a functioning theatre. Photo: Sam Hood.

By JOHN MOYLE

It has been six months since the Metro-Minerva Theatre Action Group (MMTAG) staged a rally to save the Art Deco gem in Potts Point from being converted into a boutique hotel and for it to be returned as an operational 800-1,000 seat live performance space with the help of City of Sydney and the NSW Government.

Shortly after the rally – which was attended by Marcia Hines and John Waters from the theatre’s original cast of Hair – the project’s main supporter, NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin, was forced to resign from the new Perrottet-led state government.

Since Harwin’s resignation, MMTAG and theatre lovers across Sydney have been struggling to get clarification from either the City of Sydney or the new Arts Minister, Ben Franklin, about a clear pathway forward to secure the space before the heritage space is lost forever to the community and the world.

The City of Sydney said: “The DA (by Central Element) has been exhibited and 176 submissions were received, with 162 objecting, 11 in support and three comments.

“The DA was referred to Heritage NSW to carry out its statutory assessment and will provide the City of Sydney with its recommendations prior to the completion of the City’s assessment.”

Any development by Central Element will mean that only the streamlined moderne shell of the building will be retained while the interior will be gutted for a 50-plus room hotel site that will forever lock out the idea of reverting the Metro Minerva to a working theatre.

The Metro-Mineva pictured during its days as a working theatre in an undated photo. Photo: Sam Hood.

In 2020, Create NSW and the City of Sydney co-funded a $40,000 feasibility study into the restoration of the theatre and its future operation as a sustainable performance venue.

It found that it could.

Another study was conducted by Hawkridge Entertainment Services to investigate if the space could be restored as a working 800-1,000 seat theatre space.

It found that it could.

To pursue these findings with the state government, MMTAG met with the new Arts Minister, Ben Franklin, in February this year

“Minster Franklin confirmed with us that the Metro-Minerva was one of his main priorities as minister … and he wanted to make sure that would come to fruition, and that was encouraging,” MMTAG president Brandon Martignago said.

One of the key strategies being pursued by MMTAG was to get the state purchase of the theatre included in the upcoming NSW Budget, due to be handed down around mid-June.

“I would love to see the government purchase and adapt the Metro Minerva to a 800-1,000 seat theatre,” Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich said.

“I advocated directly to the Treasurer and Arts Minister to do this in the upcoming budget and I hope that it is favourably assessed.”

Minister Franklin told The Sentinel: “While considerations under the budget process are confidential, the state government is committed to ensuring NSW is well supported to reach its full creative, social and economic potential.”

Not really a commitment of support at all.

The foyer of the theatre in its heyday. Photo: Sam Hood.

Last year, Create NSW’s film and stage strategy failed to make the agenda of the Expenditure Review Committee.

The Sentinel also approached NSW Treasurer Matt Keane, who redirected any questions back to the Arts Minister.

NSW Shadow Minister for the Arts and Heritage, Walter Secord said: “I visited the Minerva mid-February and was delighted by this Art Deco gem.

“I call on the new Arts Minister Ben Franklin to clarify the Perrottet Government’s position of funding for the Minerva.

“The previous Arts Minister Don Harwin made big sweeping statements about compulsorily acquiring the site,” he said.

Martignago knows the area of Potts Point and Kings Cross well, being the owner of small bar Dulcie’s and chairman of the local business group, the Potts Point Partnership.

With the Metro-Minerva decision still awaiting a heritage report following Central Element’s application for an archeological probe on the theatre site, Martignago is frustrated with the lack of clarity from government bodies such as the City of Sydney and the NSW Government.

Furthermore, the NSW Government’s inner city revitalisation Neon Grid program, launched in 2020, includes business areas in Surry Hills, the Central area and Newtown – but not the Kings Cross and Potts Point area.

“We applied to access some of that grant money and what I find really frustrating about the whole Neon Grid is that we need to find something that can be talked about between local business, the community and the State and City of Sydney to redefine the narrative for Kings Cross and there has been no talk or movement – and every time we go to engage with them there is always a reason for not doing anything,” Martignago said.

“At the moment I feel that Michael Rodrigues (24-hour Economy Commissioner) looks at Kings Cross as being in the too hard basket and I feel that the City of Sydney is waiting for the next project like the Minerva for them to redefine what they want for the area.”

Brandon Martignago pictured at his Kings Cross bar, Dulcie’s. Photo: Dulcie’s Kings Cross/Facebook.

Martignago says it is not only an arts decision for acquiring the Metro Minerva as a theatre but is also the better economic and social argument.

“The possible capacity that the Metro Minerva could bring into the local business community is upwards of $20 million annually as a flow on effect as opposed to the projected $6.4 million that Central Element suggested that the boutique hotel would bring in.”

Once again, as with the lockout laws, Kings Cross and Potts Point will have its future decided by political powers with no input from the local residents.

Surely it is a no-brainer to have the site refurbished as a vibrant theatre that will add to the area’s rich economic and cultural heritage, as opposed to a development project that will remove this grand old girl from the world forever.

Disclaimer: John Moyle is a member of the Metro-Minerva Theatre Action Group.

John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.

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