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Art center proposal about to be evaluated

Auckland consultancy firm Horwath HTL has been appointed to carry out a feasibility study on a proposed performing arts center for Wanaka.

The study kicks off in Wanaka next week with a series of focus groups, and it is hoped that a public announcement on the way forward can be made by September.

A group of local arts supporters and philanthropists behind the proposal are raising $140,000 to fund the study.

The group’s spokesperson, Michael Sidey, said yesterday the group was making good progress and had applied for funding from Creative New Zealand.

“We’re confident we can raise $140,000, but that doesn’t deter more people from contributing… But we’re not there yet,” Mr Sidey said.

The community-initiated proposal surfaced last year when a delegation of supporters made a submission to Queenstown Lakes District Council’s 10-year plan, asking for a proportional share of $52 million in long-term funding for the centers of Performing Arts.

At the time, it was feared that all the money would go to the $120 million Manawa Cultural and Community Center, jointly developed by the council and Ngai Tahu.

The Wanaka Group is keen to build a performing arts center that can accommodate more than the Lake Wanaka Center (330 people) and accommodate ballet troupes and full orchestras.

Mr Sidey said the Wanaka arts group had been encouraged when Director of Community Services Dr Thunes Cloete backed the concept of long-term proportional arts funding for Wanaka.

Whether the center actually moved forward and where it could be built was “a long, long way to go”.

The group did not intend to discuss site possibilities until the feasibility study was completed, Mr Sidey said.

The group had noted last week’s warnings from the Wanaka Community Council that groups wishing to develop community buildings should get advice and guidance from the outset, it said.

Community Council Deputy Chairman Ed Taylor and Cr Quentin Smith both said last week that there were ‘lessons to be learned’ from the situation at the Wanaka Community Hub, which left the hub trust having struggling to repay $800,000 in debt after construction was completed.

The council agreed to convert a $500,000 loan into a grant, to help the trust repay its debts and contribute to the high-profile resolution of a broken relationship between the hub and its tenants.

Mr Sidey said the Wanaka Arts Center group came up with a big project and kept Mayor Jim Boult, council chief executive Mike Theelen and Dr Cloete informed from the start.

The Wanaka Arts Center group also included Wanaka Community Board member Chris Hadfield, who had agreed to be a point of contact with the board, Mr Sidey said.

“Unless we get commensurate funding, this thing won’t fly. Although Queenstown Lakes District Council does not own or run it, it is a very big stakeholder,” he said.

The cost of building a performing arts center should be clear once the feasibility study is completed, he said.