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A once popular entertainment venue has sat idle for five years since the Dunedin City Council bought it due to fears it would be torn down.
The council bought the Sammy’s building on Crawford St for $128,000 in January 2017, but it did not own the land.
The building opened as the Majesty Theatre in 1897 and its stage was once graced by Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
In more recent years, under the ownership of Sam Chin, it became known as a music venue, hosting acts including The Pogues, Violent Femmes, Hunters & Collectors, and Pavement.
The venue's management ran into difficulties in 2016 when a liquor licence was declined, and it was put on the market – initially for $240,000.
The council confirmed its ownership of the site in February 2017, with then councillor (and now mayor) Aaron Hawkins saying: “Sammy's has played a huge role in Dunedin's social and cultural history, so it's exciting for our community to be able to start thinking about its future.”
The building had been at risk of being torn down, and it was envisaged at the time of the purchase that it would become an anchor tenant for the city’s Warehouse Precinct.
It was one of four venues initially mooted as a possible future performing arts centre along with the Athenaeum, the former Fortune Theatre and the Mayfair Theatre.
A feasibility study noted Sammy's was one of the larger spaces, potentially seating up to 400 people, but had the highest estimated cost – up to $38 million.
That was more than twice the estimated amount of the preferred option of the Octagon-based Athenaeum, which was not owned by the council.
A council spokesman said no decisions had been made regarding the future of Sammy’s, or the Fortune Theatre, which closed in 2018 and was also owned by the council.
“While these two venues have been ruled out as proposed new theatre sites, the council will not be considering any recommendations on their future until the council has decided on the new performing arts centre.”
That wasn’t good enough for music venue advocate Scott Muir, manager of The Chills and on the board of Independent Music New Zealand, who was “very disappointed”.
“The rhetoric around the reasons for purchasing Sammy’s centred around saving the music venue and now it simply seems to be a case of demolition by neglect – something DCC councillors have been happy to level at private business developers when it suits them.”
The same could easily be said of the neglect of the old Fortune Theatre building, he said.
The city was well catered with multipurpose theatre spaces, but was lacking a music venue with capacity for 500 to 800 people.
‘’The opportunity to leverage off the cities rich musical heritage and youth population bubble could easily be incorporated into a development in this space,’’ Muir said.