Councillor Christine Forster standing in front of the Metro Theatre. Photo: supplied.

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BY JOHN MOYLE

Recent hopes by the residents of Potts Point and Kings Cross of getting their own community centre were shot down when the City of Sydney voted against the purchase of the Metro Theatre for use as a community centre and theatre

This comes after a spokesperson for the Lord Mayor said, “After corresponding with the local community late last year, Lord Mayor Clover Moore forwarded the suggestion that the City of Sydney should purchase the Metro Theatre in Potts Point to City staff for consideration.”

No-one that City Hub has spoken with has any knowledge of the claimed community consultation.

Councillor Christine Forster said it was her that put the motion to the March 19 City of Sydney Council meeting.

“It was in response to members of the community that I put my motion up and that was for the Council to investigate options to acquire it for use as an arts and cultural centre and as a theatre,” Councillor Christine Forster said.

The whole issue became academic when Team Clover, comprising of councillors Jess, Scully, Philip Thalis, Robert Kok and Jess Miller voted against an outright purchase of the Metro.

The opportunity for Kings Cross and Potts Point to finally get the civic and theatrical centre it so sorely lacks came in early October 2017 when news broke that film director George Miller was placing the theatre that has been his production offices for over 35 years on the market.

“It was shrouded in secrecy as there was never a ‘for sale’ sign on the building,” Warren Fahey AM, historian and performer said.

The Metro Theatre is one of the most significant buildings in the area and is one of the most tourist visited buildings only behind Elizabeth Bay House.

Designed in the Streamline Moderne style of the late Art Deco movement, by renown Sydney architect Bruce Dellit, the 1,000 seat theatre opened in 1939 as a live venue before being converted into a cinema in 1950.

Thirty Five years ago George Miller and the late Byron Kennedy bought the site where Miller went on to produce more than 25 films and mini-series that collected over 25 Academy nominations for eight Oscars.

Miller has now left the heritage listed building and is relocating his production facilities to Fox Studios at Moore Park.

It is believed that theMetro’s interior still retains its original proscenium arch stage, raked floor and art deco embellishments.

Listed for sale through agents JLL, the theatre is expected to fetch around $20 million to a buyer who will have to take into account the limited uses for any repurposing of the space.

“We don’t care what the buyer wants as we know what we want, and we want the council to buy it on behalf of the community,” Andrew Woodhouse, president Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Society said.

Good sentiments but it may be too late, as a call to agents JJL suggested that Council and the community had acted too late.

“There is a prospective buyer and the property is under going due diligence,” James Aroney, national director, sales and investment, JLL said.

“The story is that it is a lost opportunity if it is not made into something that has public access,” Warren Fahey said.

The thinking of the residents that Council would purchase the property in the first place was not pie in the sky thoughts, but an action plan based on financial security and precedence.

Firstly, the City of Sydney is well heeled, “and it is not a big ask for Council,” Cr Forster said.

Secondly, the City of Sydney had previously purchased The Woolworth;s Building in Darlinghurst Road for a library and council offices, along with the Angel Place Recital Hall and the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst.

“There are lots of different ways that this can be done properly but unfortunately the Lord Mayor and her councillors would not entertain it and I think that the community is very disappointed,” Cr Forster said.

The Lord Mayor cites the need for smaller theatre spaces as being a contributing factor for refusing to buy the Metro outright.

“Our research shows there is a great demand for smaller spaces, particularly under 100 people, and with a capacity of 1,000 seats, the Metro does not satisfy the city’s most pressing needs,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

Kings Cross already has three theatres that fit that description and the Lord Mayor has not addressed the larger issue of Kings Cross and Potts Point not having a focal space where they can come together.

Currently the only space in the area that could be classified for community use is the little used and much unloved Rex Centre.
“The Rex doesn’t serve any purpose because it is too institutionalised and is not conducive to anything,” Warren Fahey said.

The residents of Kings Cross and Potts Point feel that the City of Sydney has failed them again.

“It shows that she has hardened her attitude towards the Cross and I see the purchase of the Metro site will become a major issue in the 2020 Council elections,” Andrew Woodhouse said.
“It will mean that the Kings Cross amenities will deteriorate and the people will point to this as an example that we had a marvellous opportunity to do something and did nothing.”

On 21 March Councillor Jess Scully, speaking for Team Clover, sent an email to a local resident passing the buck for any purchase to the State Government.

She said “the Metro Theatre should also be considered within the broader context of the NSW Government cultural infrastructure strategy”.

While residents of the area see the opportunity thwarted by closed thinking and meandering action there is a glimmer of hope.

With the 1,100 seat Theatre Royal likely being closed for good maybe one of our successful entrepreneurs will purchase the Metro and restore it to its original use and glory.

Team Clover were contacted individually for comment but none were forthcoming.

  • warren fahey

    It should go down on record that I sent the Lord Mayor a an email in October 2017, immediately after I had found out the building was for sale, I suggested this would be an ideal purchase for the CoS and such a facility would go a long way in building a community bridge with this disenfranchised part of the City of Sydney. I further suggested, as a valuer for the Commonwealth Cultural Gift Program, that there was probably some advantage for George Miller in such an arrangement on purchase. (I received no acknowledgement nor reply).

    I am an experienced theatrical and event producer and part of my history was as a senior executive at Harry M Miller Attractions, which held the license for The Metro. I worked on many shows staged at the Metro.

    Although we have several smaller theatres in the area, every single one of them is committed to their own programming and not readily available to outside producers. The Metro would fill a huge hole in Sydney’s theatrical portfolio. It would be ideal as an overflow for successful shows from Hayes Theatre (and other theatres) and would be preferable to the ageing Encore Theatre for the larger type theatrical and concert production. It would also fill a community need for a space for talks, lectures, conferences and even, dare I say it, screening of films. Potts Point is a real community searching for a heart, a central home. The weekend markets have proven locals will support its community.

    We do feel the City has turned its back on us, placed us in the too hard basket because we have the tenacity and temerity to stand up for ourselves. The fact the recent NSW Government plan on the Eastern Suburbs made no mention of Potts Point is a further slap in the face. Here we are with the most restrictive licensing regulations in Australia, one of the highest (and smartest) population densities, a superb portfolio of heritage buildings, an international reputation, and, now, a wasted opportunity.

  • ANDREW WOODHOUSE

    FROM ANDREW WOODHOUSE

    Councillor Forster’s initiative is a very good one. The Metro can be adaptively re-used for more than just a theatre, such as cinema, community hall, festival space, local museum or start-up small offices.

    Warren Fahey AM, cultural historian, is correct – see below.

    And If Clover Moore really did pass on suggestions to purchase this sate, why weren’t they acted upon?
    Or has she pre-decided the result of council’s decision to Monica Barone,CEO, to fully investigate ALL possible uses?

    This site is an opportunity to provide something as a catalyst to revive the area.

    Mrs Moore’s born-to-rule, patrician insouciance is troubling with the 2020 elections looming.

    ANDREW WOODHOUSE

    Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage & Residents’ Society
    heritageandconservation@hotmail.com

  • Andrew Woodhouse

    Councillor Prof. Kerryn Phelps AM has proposed an excellent Motion to state heritage-list the Metro site – a great idea – helps conserve it for the future.

    see https://meetings.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/documents/s10025/Metro%20Cinema%20Formerly%20Minerva%20Theatre%20NSW%20State%20Heritage%20Listing.pdf