‘Scandalous’: Walsh Bay arts revamp stalls

‘Scandalous’: Walsh Bay arts revamp stalls

The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bell Shakespeare Company and the Australian Theatre for Young People are in limbo after work to their new lodgings at Walsh Bay's Pier 2/3 has failed to go ahead.

Funding for the fit-out of Walsh Bay's Pier 2/3, a key part of the state government's much-vaunted Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, is also being questioned despite government assurances that it is committed to the project and it has fully funded works to the tune of $245 million.

A frustrated Richard Tognetti, artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), which is due to leave its current rehearsal and office space in Circular Quay by November, admits the situation is "pretty dire".

Rendering of Walsh Bay redevelopment with Pier 2/3 in the background.

Sydney Writers’ Festival chief executive Chrissy Sharp says it is planning for the 2020 and 2021 festivals to be held at Carriageworks, having been informed "some time ago about the delay in starting work on Pier 2/3".

The heritage wharves at Walsh Bay have ''presented engineering challenges identified during works on pier 4/5'', affecting start on stage two of the Berejiklian government's revitalised arts precinct; the cost of which was revised in the NSW Budget to $245 million.

New "redevelopment and design options" for Pier 2/3 are to be considered by the government in November with senior sources confident the revised works would be green-lighted by Treasury.

But Millers Point Community Resident Action Group president John McInerney says Infrastructure NSW representatives told the group in June there is no funding for the proposed works on Pier 2/3.

Richard Tognetti, artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.Credit:Wolter Peeters

"We were informed that it is highly likely that this pier – until now a critical part of the vision for the precinct – will need to be boarded up and left inaccessible for an undefined period of time," he said. "It's scandalous."

News of the project delays follow revelations that Infrastructure NSW has had to reopen the tender for construction of Sydney Modern and the Sydney Football Stadium rebuild.

The ACO is meant to have moved into new purpose-built facilities, including a 250-seat auditorium, in 2020 but is now looking for a temporary home.

It has raised $8 million towards the $20 million cost to deliver its home on Pier 2/3, including fit-out, fittings, government payments, design and consultancy, and relocation costs, according to its annual report. The capital campaign to raise additional funds for the relocation is meant to have started next year.

Speaking at the launch of the ACO's 2020 season about his 30-year-tenure, Mr Tognetti says he will not leave the arts company "until we find proper premises, that's for sure".

Should the works for Pier 2/3 not be signed off by Treasury, Australian Theatre for Young People artistic director  Fraser Corfield says: "It would have grave implications for us but, at this point, we’re confident it will go ahead."

Bell Shakespeare Company is in negotiations to retain its lease on its current premises in The Rocks, which includes office space and rehearsal premises.

Opposition arts spokesman Walt Secord says the government owes the arts community an explanation if delays impact on artistic productions and their staging. "Another day; another delay in an arts infrastructure project," he said.

The Walsh Bay Arts Precinct project includes the refurbishment of Pier 4/5, which houses Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Dance Company, and work there is well underway.

Mr McInerney fears the overall project has been "whittled down" to the refurbishment of Pier 4/5. "The rest of the grand vision has been deleted," he said.

A spokesperson for Create NSW said the government was fully committed to the Walsh Bay project: "Plans remain for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bell Shakespeare and the Australian Theatre for Young People, as well as retaining a heritage commercial events/art space for events such as Sydney Writers Festival, Biennale of Sydney and a wide range of cultural events."

In 1983 the precinct was reinvigorated and became home to Sydney Theatre Company. The revamp was to have restored the industrial character of the wharves, constructed in the 1920s. The project was delayed in 2017 when the NSW Court of Appeal ruled that planning approval was invalid.

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