Cairns Performing Arts Centre FAQ

Why is Council building a new performing arts centre

The Cairns Civic Theatre was built 40 years ago and no longer meets the needs and expectations of the community, nor local, regional and national performers.

Extensive independent studies and consultations have identified the shortfalls of the existing theatre and the requirements of current and potential users of the facility.

This Council has always been committed to providing a state-of-the-art regional performing arts venue commensurate with the needs and expected growth of the Cairns community. The Precinct project delivers such a venue. It is expected that the new CPAC will be completed in 2018.

Why will this project succeed where previous proposals have failed?

The key driver behind The Precinct is creating a performing arts centre that meets the needs of the Cairns community. Redeveloping Martin Munro Park in tandem will enhance the area while providing a tranquil gathering and performance space for the community.

This is a significantly different proposal to both the Cairns Cultural Precinct and Cairns Entertainment Precinct which incorporated retail areas and a museum, among other enhancements.

The Precinct will also be located on Council controlled land and Council will be the sole occupant.

By having full control over the development, Council eliminates a wide array of variables, providing greater certainty of the final delivery and timeline.

How much will the project cost?

Updated 17 November

The State and Federal governments have announced a combined $25 million in funding for the Cairns Performing Arts Centre: $10 from the Federal Government under the National Stronger Regions Fund, and $15 million from the 2016/17 State budget.

The funding commitments allow Council to reallocate $25 million to other community projects.

Updated 16 December

The original estimates for The Precinct project – which includes Munro Martin Parklands and the Cairns Performing Arts Centre – was $65 million.

Once the full scope of the project was done and design completed, the cost of Munro Martin Parklands was increased by $2 million.

The estimate cost of the CPAC was based on the concept only. Once detailed discussions were conducted with the users of the facility, changes were made to the original concept to fulfil these desires, incurring additional design costs and some costs to the construction of the building.

The CPAC has been costed at $66.5 million taking into account $53.2million to construct the building. Additional funds have been allocated to cover design costs to date and in the future, management of the contract, and an appropriate contingency fund.

The cost to deliver The Precinct project is $76.5 million.

Why doesn't Council redevelop the Civic Theatre instead of pulling it down?

By building a new facility, Council gains greater certainty of cost, time and functionality.

Advice from the project architect, based in turn on specialist theatre advice, engineering and quantity survey cost controllers, was that there was no guarantee that redeveloping the existing Cairns Civic Theatre building would achieve the full functionality required.

Further, it is estimated that about 85% of the existing Cairns Civic Theatre building would have had to be carefully dismantled and associated temporary works put in place. There is also the real possibility of latent risks for both Council and the building contractor that are commonplace during the renovation of old buildings.

Considerable work would also be required to bring the 40-year-old building up to relevant building and cyclone codes.

By demolishing the existing building and starting with a clean slate, Council can deliver a purpose-built facility with all the functionality expected by local, regional, national and international performers and a greatly improved audience experience.

Will my rates go up to pay for this project?

Updated 16 December

Council is in a strong financial position, recording surpluses for the past three years. It has the second lowest debt of major Councils in the State and can manage borrowings without having to put rates up any more than was indicated in this year’s Budget documents. 

Financial modelling over the next 10 years indicates capital expenditure of approximately $1.4 billion and annual rate increase of between 2% and 3.5%.

How come this is so much cheaper than previous options? What is Council omitting?

The key driver behind The Precinct is creating a performing arts centre for the Cairns community. Redeveloping Martin Munro Park in tandem will enhance the area while providing a tranquil gathering place for the community.

This is a significantly different proposal to both the Cairns Cultural Precinct and Cairns Entertainment Precinct which incorporated retail areas and a museum, among other enhancements.

The core needs of a modern performing arts centre however remain the same, with The Precinct project drawing on the technical and audience requirements identified in previous proposals.

Why build the theatre on the same site rather than previous proposals near the waterfront?

Community engagement conducted by independent consultants as part of previous projects has shown the Cairns community appreciates the central location of the Cairns Civic Theatre and sees the theatre as an integral part of the city's cultural fabric.

Building on the existing site has shown to be cost effective while meeting the technical and audience requirements as set down in the Savill report and other earlier investigations.

The former CEP proposal was to locate the facility on what has been documented as strategic port land adjacent to the Cairns waterfront. Both the Civic Theatre and Munro Martin Park are on Council-controlled sites eliminating the need to purchase land and dependence on co-occupiers.

The site will provide a strong entry statement at what is a key intersection into the city and it is hoped that the advent of the new facilities will generate more commercial activity in that specific part of the city.

When will the theatre be closed?

The last show at the Cairns Civic Theatre will be the Choral Society's performance of "Phantom of the Opera" on 30 January.

The building will then be closed for decommissioning with the intention that the Cairns Performing Arts Centre will open in mid-2018.

Where will performances be held in the interim?

Council is working closely with the performing arts community and key users/hirers of the Cairns Civic Theatre to identify alternative venues for performances during the construction phase.

Coinciding with The Precinct project, Council is investing $2.2 million to upgrade the Tanks Art to create a performance space in Tank 3 and reconfigure Tank 5 to increase audience capacity. Climate control and improved back of house and technical components are also included making the venue suitable for a wider range of performing arts. Works will take place during the normal wet-season "shut down" and are due for completion in March 2016.

What consultation has already taken place?

Update 16 December

Council has drawn on feedback from previous projects and complemented this information through workshops with the Civic Theatre’s key users, such as the Cairns Choral Society, junior and senior eisteddfods, Cairns Brass Band, and local schools and dance academies, and comments from state, national and international touring groups.

Through this process, Council has been able to set the key functional requirements of the Cairns Performing Arts Centre.

Council also conducted a three-week public consultation process for CPAC between November 14 and December. The results were reported to Council on 16 December.

The Precinct concept was on display for comment at the 2015 Cairns Show and was available for comment on Council’s website.

What improvements will be included in the new Cairns Performing Arts Centre?

The following table compares the identified shortfalls of the existing Cairns Civic Theatre with improvements to be achieved with the new CPAC.

Cairns Civic Theatre

Cairns Performing Arts Centre

The stage size is the smallest in regional Queensland. 

Stage increased to accommodate full symphony orchestra (98 musicians) or ballet company

Increased depth of stage from 10m to 13.5m

Increased width of stage from 22m to 27m (including wings).

A 2.5m wide crossover is also included.

The theatre's 669-seat capacity has commercial impacts and is low by comparison with other regional facilities.

941 seats in the main theatre including 260 balcony seats and 20 box seats.

400 seats in the studio theatre (blackbox) including 81 balcony seats.

Inadequate dressing, toilets and changing room facilities.

Provision for 66 people in front of mirrors, up from 14 people.

Three times as many back-of-house toilets.

Studio theatre can double as changing rooms during peak times such as the Cairns Eisteddfod.

Disability Discrimination Act compliance

Improved access for patrons and performers with a disability.

Inadequate rehearsal facilities particularly for larger performances.

The studio theatre can double as a rehearsal/warm-up space.

More and larger change rooms will also assist.

Current foyer configuration provides for only 200 people. Similar concerns about bar configuration and the need for a covered Porte Cochere.

Foyer size to increase almost three-fold, 641m2 compared to 224m2. A new 84m2 balcony-level foyer has also been created.

The bar/refreshment service area has increased to 33m compared to 6m.

A 18.75m covered Porte Cochere can accommodate 4 car lengths or a 50-seater bus and one car.

Administration staff located in external demountable buildings.

Administration staff are to be accommodated within the new building.

The orchestra pit currently accommodates 16 performers, one entry/egress point and height is compromised in several places.

More flexible operational area with minimum capacity for 45 musicians.

Height of proscenium arch and fly tower too low for major performances and only 21 manually operated fly lines.

Increase arch height from 6.1m to 14m  and fly tower grid. Minimum of 48 fly lines.

Loading dock door is only 2.2m high.

Increase to 5m/6m.

What will happen to the time capsule at the Cairns Civic Theatre site?

The time capsule incorporated into the Centenary Peace Column on the Sheridan Street side of the theatre celebrates the completion of the Cairns Civic Theatre in 1973.

It contains history on people who served in World War 2, the 51st RQR, the Mayor at that time and other notable people of Cairns. 

This capsule is due to be opened in 2073.

Through consultation with the RSL, the Peace Column will be removed and the time capsule incorporated into the foyer of the new Cairns Performing Arts Centre.

Where will the increased number of patrons to The Precinct park?

Council is exploring options for increasing on-street and off-street car parking to accommodate increased visitation to Munro Martin Parklands and the Cairns Performing Arts Centre.

This includes using the adjacent Ergon land which will provide an additional 48 parking spaces.

Will ticket prices be impacted?

Ticket prices and performer user fees will remain as they are currently for the Cairns Civic Theatre and will only attract an annual rise in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) under the cost analysis outlined to Council.

Why was FK Gardner and Sons awarded the tender?

FK Gardner and Sons was chosen from a shortlist of five contractors based on value for money, commitment to work with local suppliers, and experience of key staff in working on theatre projects.

The company has had a base in Cairns for the past six years and has 12 permanent staff in the city.

It has identified local sub-contractors to be engaged throughout the works. Some specialist theatre services will be sourced from outside Cairns.

FK Gardner constructed the Mossman Gorge Visitor Centre and Cairns High School Year 7 building and completed the revitalisation of the Tjapukai Cultural Centre. The company is presently building the Cairns Aquarium. 

The team assembled for the CPAC project brings experience from theatre/auditorium projects such as the refurbishment of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, restoration of Brisbane City Hall, the Sunnybrook Community Club incorporating a 400-seat auditorium and the Sydney Convention Centre.

What will be the annual cost to Council?

The business case forecasts that the net cost to Council of operating the theatre complex will be $5.6 million a year, taking into account $2.1 million of depreciation and $2 million of interest on borrowings of up to $35 million.

The net cost to Council is in line with other large recreational facilities provided to the community.

For example, maintaining and operating the Cairns Esplanade costs in excess of $5 million a year, the Botanical Gardens $2.4 million, Barlow Park nearly $2 million – but that is what Council’s do – they provide quality recreational spaces, services and facilities for the community’s benefit.

How does this compare to the CEP?

The two projects are of significantly different scales, with capital investment for CPAC being $65 million compared to $154.6 million for the CEP. The net cost to council annually for the CPAC is projected to be $5.6 million compared to the forecast of $10.1 million for the CEP.

The operational assumptions underpinning the forecasts for each are also significantly different with the CEP based on a standard hire rate of $6,000 per day compared to $1,200 for the CPAC and a not-for-profit hire rate of $5,100 per day compared to $650 for the CPAC.

Will there more performances at CPAC compared to CCT?

The Business Case has allowed for an additional 11 shows a year to be staged at the complex.

Last updated: 14 November 2015