FOR more than 15 years, the historically important Victoria Theatre was just another of Newcastle old derelict buildings.
A once-regal structure that had fallen on hard times, it was a a pile that seemed destined to either rot or be knocked down, despite its obvious heritage importance.
But thanks to the intervention of Sydney’s Century Venues group, and its adventurous executive director Greg Khoury, the Victoria looks destined to be revived to its former glory, against, it should be said, considerable odds.
Of course it is still early days – Century Venues has owned the building for two years, and a development application to Newcastle City Council is still a predicted six to 12 months away – but Mr Khoury appears in no doubt that the Victoria can be revived as a profitable, working theatre, and apparently without the sort of high-rise addition that is so often the price to pay when heritage buildings are restored.
In its latest round of good news, Century Group has received a series of experts’ reports that have thrown up no insurmountable obstacles to the company’s plans.
Such a restoration will not come cheap, but it is a welcome sign of the confidence that a growing number of “outsiders” are showing in the future of a revitalised Newcastle CBD.
That said, such a project will always be a gamble, as the people behind the closed Kensington Nightclub found when they put more than $4 million into that former Hunter Street cinema about five years ago.
But timing is important in these matters, and Mr Khoury is confident that the big “East End” multi-million redevelopment across the road by fellow Sydneysiders Iris Capital is another sign that his plans are on the right track.
Looking at the CBD today, the mass of disruptive construction work makes it difficult to appreciate what the future of the city has to hold. It will not always be like this, and once the road closures are over and the light rail installed, Novocastrians will then be able to enjoy a more modern, and more sophisticated, city centre.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the city’s development projects are done by Hunter-based companies but with the Victoria Theatre and the mall development, we have key projects visualised and financed by interests from outside of our region. They have faith in the city, and so should we.