NEWCASTLE'S Victoria Theatre had been boarded up for years when veteran hotelier Arthur Laundy announced he was selling it by auction with a reserve price of $1 in a "philanthropic" effort to have someone take it over and do it up.
Sydney operator Century Venues, which runs a cluster of attractions including the Metro and Enmore theatres, bought it before auction for an undisclosed price, and in the four years since has worked hard to see it brought back to life.
Old buildings are never cheap to restore, and a year ago, Century's estimate was $9.5 million, with the ALP promising to put $3 million toward the project should Labor win the state election, which of course it did not.
Now, having done the numbers again, Century says the real cost is likely to be more like $11.5 million, of which it is able to contribute $2 million.
It is looking to raise the rest of the money, appealing to the state and federal governments, as well as the private sector.
It has lodged a development application with Newcastle council, seeking the Vic's return as a 1000-seat theatre, complete with an overhauled "fly tower" backstage, and a modern glass verandah - echoing that on the adjacent Crown and Anchor hotel - out the front.
While not every old building in Newcastle can be returned to its horse-and-buggy glory, the Vic is a structure well worth saving.
Across the road, Iris Capital's East End project might be building high, but it's also going to great lengths to preserve its heritage frontages along the Hunter Street mall.
The eastern end of Newcastle is the part of town where planners have put the greatest value on traditional streetscapes.
To make it easier for governments to contribute to the cause, Century Venues has offered to transfer the Vic to a not-for-profit trust, meaning that the value of any public money going into the restoration stays with the community.
Taken together, these attributes mean the Vic is precisely the sort of project that should easily qualify for government funding.
It would be wonderful if wealthy members of our community were prepared to put their hands in their pockets, and let's hope they do.
But the Vic is exactly the sort of heritage-listed structure - and one with a valuable community use - that deserves government funding.
It's up to the politicians and the bureaucrats to make it happen.
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