Council tallies cost of Regent Theatre

Mid-Western Regional Council has estimated the cost of buying and renovating The Regent Theatre at $4.7 million.
Mid-Western Regional Council has estimated the cost of buying and renovating The Regent Theatre at $4.7 million.

Restoring Mudgee’s Regent Theatre as a functional cinema and live performance venue would cost $4.7 million, according to a report considered by Mid-Western Regional Council this week.

General manager Warwick Bennett presented the report to council’s meeting on Wednesday in order to confirm council was going down the right track in including movie facilities in the Town Hall Theatre.

Mr Bennett said the report - the first publicly available analysis of costs associated with re-opening the theatre - would also help members of the public to understand issues facing regional theatres.

Council investigated the cost of buying the theatre and developing it in two stages.

The cost of the first stage, including creation of two 100-seat theatres in the dress circle and renovation of the foyer and dress circle lounge, is estimated at $2 million.

This includes design, consultant and application fees ($70,000), construction of theatrettes ($150,000), external life for accessibility ($250,000), upgrading toilets ($200,000), general maintenance and upgrade including painting and carpet ($400,000), theatre fit out including equipment and seating ($530,000), kiosk ($100,000) and airconditioning, electrical upgrades and fire safety ($300,000).

Mr Bennett said the lift and accessible toilets, both major expenses, were essential to cater for people with disabilities.

Airconditioning or heating were also essential in Mudgee’s climate, he said.

A second stage including upgrading the ground floor auditorium is estimated at $2.05 million, including extension of the back of stage and relocation of toilets, general maintenance, levelling of floor and seating, airconditioning, electrical upgrade and fire safety and stage lighting.

Council’s cost estimate is based on a purchase price of around $700,000.

In his report, Mr Bennett said although the cost could be considered high, undertaking anything less would be contrary to NSW legislation and building standards.

He said buying the Regent Theatre was not affordable or an effective use of ratepayers money, taking into consideration the experience of other regional theatres around NSW.

“There has been a general decline in the number of regional cinemas in operation and from a commercial perspective, the major operators within this industry consider investment in regional cinemas is risky compared to metropolitan based cinemas.”

The report does not include the ongoing cost of running The Regent, such as staff, electricity, heating, marketing or insurance, or finance costs if the purchase were financed through a loan.

However, council’s research found single-screen cinemas were not viable due to the limited number of new releases that can be shown.

A three or four-screen theatre would help to meet film distribution requirements, but it would be difficult to attract the required audience with the region’s current population, the report found.

Mr Bennett recommended council conduct a one-year trial of showing movies in the refurbished Town Hall Theatre for a year.

He said movie equipment was being purchased and subject to budget and patronage, this would allow council to screen movies in the Town Hall Theatre at least one weekend a month.

“We are aware of the historical importance of the Regent Theatre to this region, however it is management’s opinion that it is not always the responsibility of council to own, operate and maintain historical buildings,” he said.

The Regent Theatre failed to sell at auction in April. It has been on the market since 2009.

Estimated project costs

PURCHASE PRICE - $700,000

CREATION OF TWO THEATRETTES - $2,000,000

UPGRADE OF GROUND FLOOR AUDITORIUM - $2,050,000

TOTAL - $4,750,000