Cool million for shabby Queenstown hall

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A million-dollar grant is kickstarting a fundraising campaign to upgrade Queenstown’s bedraggled community hall. 

A working party has produced a $2.56m plan to improve the ageing Memorial Hall as a community, performance and conference venue. 

The plan includes increased tiered seating, an extended lobby, external foyer, removal of the mezzanine floor, raised stage roof, a retractable wall and structural strengthening. 

Central Lakes Trust chair Sir Eion Edgar today announces a $1m contribution towards the “excellent and well-presented community project”. 

The working party, chaired by Queenstown councillor Cath Gilmour, is also approaching funding agencies like the Community Trust of Southland and the Lottery Community Facilities Fund.Queenstown Lakes District Council is likely to stump up $475,000. 

“It is inescapably time to upgrade our hall – the rather bedraggled home of so many community celebrations, musical and drama productions, Anzac Day services and social gatherings,” Gilmour says. 

Several hundred thousand dollars in sponsorship and in-kind contributions will also be required by the soon-to-be-formed Queenstown Memorial Hall Trust, Gilmour says. 

Three fundraising events are planned. 

Gilmour says the long-term goal of a separate, purpose-built performance venue for the Wakatipu remains “but the fragile economy means this is not currently a realistic answer to Memorial Hall’s shortcomings”. 

“It might not make everyone as ecstatic as a magically fully-funded arts centre would, but it sure will make a lot of people a lot happier.” 

Gilmour says some parts of the project like air-conditioning and acoustics were planned when the hall was renovated in 1998 but were dropped for funding reasons. 

The working party believes the upgrade will significantly improve hall usage, which has dropped away because of its inadequacies – many touring shows, for example, don’t come as a result. 

The upgrade, and the retractable wall, in particular, would also make the hall more attractive for 150 to 300-delegate conferences, Gilmour says. 

The hall’s original “memorial” character will also be enhanced – it was originally built in 1959 to honour locals killed in World War II. 

The latest upgrade project was triggered by working party member and performing arts enthusiast Steve Wilde, who was shocked to see rain falling on RSA president Dave Geddes’ head during an Anzac Day concert last year. 

“It really did make me wonder about the future of the hall,” he says. 

“But with the upgrade, it’s now going to continue to be exactly what was first envisaged – a living memorial at the centre of community cultural life,” Wilde adds. 

Gilmour says there’s been great support already from community groups like the RSA and Showbiz Queenstown – which is contributing $125,000 worth of lighting and sound equipment – as well as local consultants. 

The Wakatipu Rugby Club has also offered manpower to put in a downstairs changing room. 

The working party hopes the project will run from next August and be completed by the end of 2012. It’s inviting the public to the hall this Saturday, from 11am till 2pm, to view the plans.