‘Final curtain call for Kings Cross’: Old Sydney theatre expected to be approved as a hotel

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Planning approval is set to be granted to turn director George Miller’s former film base into a boutique hotel and cabaret venue, dashing hopes that it could reemerge as Sydney’s newest theatre.

The City of Sydney council’s planning committee, meeting late this afternoon, has recommended conditional consent for Central Element’s amended plans for a 63-room hotel and Parisian-style cabaret room seating 250 people on the site of the old Metro-Minerva theatre in Potts Point which opened in 1939 as a cinema.

In supporting the $30 million development plans, the panel has sidestepped objections of community members who had wanted the NSW government to acquire the site and restore it as an 800 to 1000-seat theatre to anchor a new theatre hub in Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Wolloomooloo.

Appaled: Brandon Martignago outside the Metro-Minerva.Credit: James Brickwood

Liberal Councillor Lyndon Gannon declared the arms-length decision of the council’s planning panel would be the “final curtain call for Kings Cross”.

Gannon said the local community and local businesses wanted a theatre, the creative sector was crying out for venues, and feasibility studies showed it would work.

“We don’t need another boutique hotel that will be the flavour of the month then empty a couple of years down the track,” he said. “I’d much rather have a venue drawing in thousands of people each week, with the economic multiplier effect creating a much more vibrant area. And not to mention supporting our next generation of creatives.”

The likely hotel approval comes after a feasibility study council co-funded with the government’s agency Create NSW in 2021 found commercial market interest in a 1000-seat theatre on the site which was estimated to be built for $35 million.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said at the time she was hopeful the space could be revived as a theatre or cultural facility to complement council’s vision of a vibrant and culturally diverse area.

Former Liberal arts minister Don Harwin had been particularly keen to see the Minerva-Metro restored to its art deco glory to address a shortage of mid-sized theatre venues in Sydney.

The 1930s theatre had been used as an entertainment venue until its closure in 1976. It was later used by the production company Kennedy Miller which created Oscar-winning films such as Happy Feet, Mad Max and Babe.

Theatre producers have long complained that they have been forced to premiere shows in Melbourne for the lack of suitable venues, with a 2021 report finding there was a five-year logjam in bringing first-run shows to Sydney stages.

Property developer Central Element said its hotel plans would carefully revive the heritage-listed building. The semi-circular dress circle boxes and grand staircase are to be preserved under the proposed conditions of consent.

Artist impression of the new-look Minerva HotelCredit: CE Minerva

Central Element’s revised development application replaced two levels of basement parking and an underground nightclub with a 250-seat cabaret venue with a “unique and international immersive entertainment experience that is unique to Sydney and Australia”.

International hotel and food and beverage operator Ennismore will manage the hotel and venues while Paris Society International will operate entertainment and food and beverage offerings. The main auditorium space will host Parisian-style interactive cabaret shows of “music, theatre and cinematography” in refined interiors with French hospitality.

The panel recommends approval with a cap on the capacity of the entertainment venues and its trading hours restricted to midnight to protect neighbours from excessive noise. Planning conditions, it said, conserve the heritage significance of the site.

Brandon Martignago, who was among more than 1700 people petitioning to restore the art deco theatre and runs the Metro-Minerva Theatre Action Group, said he had lost faith in the city’s cultural leaders who had surrendered an opportunity to provide for critical cultural infrastructure.

“The Lord Mayor and councillors have given up on encouraging a culturally diverse city,” he said. “If a developer wants something in Sydney it seems they can have it, no matter the cultural and historical impacts on the city.

“This decision is kneecapping the arts industry. The one thing that the arts need in Sydney is more live theatre spaces and our elected leaders seem so willing to curb their rhetoric and allow the bureaucrats to decide what direction the city should go.

“Sydney is still rebuilding itself after COVID and that was after losing its cultural crown to Melbourne in the aftermath of the lockout laws. It makes no sense.”

Martignago said Arts minister John Graham had so far ignored his group’s pleas to intercede.

The City of Sydney’s planning panel is to determine the matter, not elected councillors, after the development was determined to be contentious and requested variations to height limits.

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