The April 18 meeting of Ku-ring-gai Council was a disaster for the renovation of the Marian St Theatre, with councillors rejecting a motion from Cr Simon Lennon to examine alternatives to raising rates via a Special Rates Variation (SRV) to fund the theatre.

Mayor Jeff Pettett – once a supporter of the theatre – was especially critical, claiming the cost of rebuilding the theatre had increased from $3 million in 2015 to $30 million today.

“Building a theatre is not an essential project,” Cr Pettett said. “We could use that $30 million to build footpaths, drainage and a multi-storey car park in Wahroonga Village.

“We are committed to the St Ives basketball courts. We are not committed to the Marian St Theatre.”

Cr Martin Smith also slammed the project, saying: “On the site where it is it is not suitable. We should revisit this when we have the financial resources to do so.”

Work on the theatre was to have begun in the 2022/23 financial year, but the earliest the renovation could now start would be 2025/26. Development consent for the project will lapse in August 2026.

An SRV would have to be approved by both ratepayers across Ku-ring-gai and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. Rejection by either group would mean the project would not proceed.

The alternatives suggested by Cr Lennon included Federal and State government grants and philanthropic and public funding.

Council’s general manager John McKee said an alternative strategy would have to be driven by the councillors, adding: “We have no alternatives (to an SRV) apart from the asset sales.”

“This is an incredibly short-sighted approach by the majority of councillors,” Support Marian St Theatre spokesman John Townend said.

“Five years ago Council voted unanimously to renovate and reopen the theatre – now they won’t even consider looking at ways of funding it apart from raising rates.

“Cr Pettett seems to think that a basketball court is more important to Ku-ring-gai residents than a live theatre. Everyone can go to the theatre and enjoy a play or a live music performance. Not everyone wants to play basketball.

“As Cr Lennon said, ‘what is the difference between an SVR for basketball courts as against a theatre?’

“We must find a way forward on this, or Ku-ring-gai will never again enjoy live theatre.”