Newcastle's Victoria Theatre restoration still on track

Building reports have revealed the historic Victoria Theatre is structurally sound and has the seating capacity to be a viable venue.

Sydney firm Century Venues bought the 126-year-old theatre in Perkins Street two years ago with grand plans to return it to its former glory, and executive director Greg Khoury said this week that the company’s dream was still on track.

Mr Khoury said engineering, pest, acoustic and building-compliance reports had demonstrated that the dilapidated theatre was not beyond salvation.  

“The most important thing is the building’s structurally sound, and the other elements that go into a working, viable theatre are in place. There’s been no shocks,” he said. “We’re now translating those findings into a dollar figure.”

Mr Khoury anticipated it would take 6 to 12 months to gain development approval.

“We’ve had meetings with council, and clearly they’re keen to see it returned and its doors open, but this building’s been closed now for 52 years as a theatre.

“There’s nothing in it that complies to current standards. It’s been derelict effectively for the last 12 years.

“If it’s going to cost what we can immediately afford, then obviously we’ll go full steam with the DA and pull that together. If it’s significantly more, then we need to investigate how we would finance that. That can be done concurrently with the DA.”

Mr Khoury said the theatre’s proximity to the East End redevelopment made the project more attractive.

“Given that the regeneration of Newcastle has already well and truly happened, and that will only accelerate with the whole Hunter mall development, we believe all the indicators are extremely strong,” he said.

The Victoria would have a seating capacity of about 900, rising to about 1200 when the seats were removed, filling a niche in the Newcastle theatre market. 

“Having presented shows at the Civic over the years and talked to local people, we believe Newcastle is being under-serviced,” Mr Khoury said.

“We have scoped a lot of the activity that is already going on in Newcastle and the organisations that exist, community and pro-am.

“Obviously they are looking for a space that’s not as big as the Civic and one that is cost-effective and relatively low-maintenance in terms of staffing and costs.”

“It’s pointless to come into a market if you can’t provide the facility at the prices for which people can pay for it, otherwise it just doesn’t get used.”

Mr Khoury said the venue would host “contemporary, amplified music”, but sound experts had assured him the noise would not affect nearby residents.

Workers had removed much of the “80 tonnes of rubbish” which had accumulated in the theatre over the decades when it was used as a store then closed. 

He said the interior of the renovated theatre would not be modern – “I’d sooner be dead than do that” – but architects were looking at ways to retain the building’s patina of age.

“We believe that the Civic is probably one of the best renovations in the country, without doubt. It’s stunning.

“One of the things we’re considering is restoring the theatre based on some theatres overseas where there’s been a minimal amount of restoration and the decay has been arrested and the repairs are done where they’re needed, but the condition of the theatre today has essentially been kept, which would be an interesting juxtaposition against the Civic, which is fully deluxed, fully refurbed to its late ’30s condition.”