A planned $18 million project to upgrade Rotorua’s performing arts centre has received backing from the local musical theatre group.

The Rotorua Lakes Council has announced that it has appointed an architect to carry out design work on the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre, marking what it says is a step closer to the historic building opening its doors following a closure due to earthquake concerns.

In a statement, the council said had appointed Wellington-based Shand Shelton to complete the design for the seismic strengthening and refurbishment of the building, following a tender process.

The closure of the landmark building came at the same time when plans were being drawn up for giving clear director for changes needed to ensure optional use of the category one heritage building as a performing arts centre.

Rotorua Lakes Council’s Arts and Culture manager Stewart Brown said in the statement that the project team was impressed with Shand Shelton’s focus on improving and enhancing the spaces for performing arts – from acoustic design through to easy operation, flexibility of spaces and high-quality theatre services. As a firm that specialises in theatre design, they also have an impressive track record of working in performing arts spaces and heritage buildings.

“Key elements of the design which really stood out included Shand Shelton’s hugely respectful treatment of the building’s original heritage features, its strong use of wood throughout, and the way the team integrated and connected all the spaces with uniquely Rotorua stories,” said Stewart Brown.

“We are really confident, that when the project is completed, we will have a fantastic building where our local performing arts groups can showcase their talents, and a facility that will enable Rotorua to attract many of the top-quality touring shows from around the country and internationally,” he said.

The Rotorua Musical Theatre was one of the biggest local users of the facility, President Natasha Benfell said, adding the group was looking forward to the continued progress council was making to provide a safe and functional work space.

“We have attended, where possible, all of the discussions with council and felt very included in the process and it has been a long one.  An upgrade to provide the community with the best possible outcome has been an enormous project. We have tried to convey our personal requirements and hope that the end result will reflect a space we can all be proud of.”

Details provided by the council show that the Sir Howard Morrison Centre stage one enhancements will include:

  • upgrade of the Concert Chamber to a flexible performance space able to seat 100 to 300 people

  • upgrade and extension of the Civic Theatre to 1,000 seats

  •  general refurbishment of the main foyer, Banquet Room, and other spaces

  • refurbishment of the building exterior, and external landscaping and lighting


“Our design seeks to weave together the past and the future in wood, stone and glass. Working with iwi and whānau we hope to capture the spirit of Rotorua in a building that will resonate with performers and patrons alike.  We are cognisant of both the privilege and the responsibility a project like this entails,” said Roger Shand of Shand Shelton. 

During the recent long-term planning round, the council agreed to commit $4.5million towards the seismic strengthening of the centre, with the balance of funds for the project to be sourced externally. The project team has already had additional funding commitments of $6million and is working hard to reach the estimated stage one project cost of $18million.

Earlier this year, Sir Owen Glenn pledged $3million towards the project, Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust has committed $1.5million and New Zealand Community Trust has approved $750,000. Further commitments in principle totalling $750,000 have been received from a number of other trusts.

The Shand Shelton concept design also included a further stage two option, to replace the curved Banquet Room with a built-for-purpose performance space, storage space, and truck dock. Stage two will only be undertaken if the additional estimated funding of $4.8million can also be sourced externally.


Support for progress on $18M arts centre work as architect announced

IVisual showing the front of the remodelled Rotorua Performing Arts Centre. Supplied by Wellington architects Shand Shelton.

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