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$90m Festival Centre revamp long overdue


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Key SA arts organisations have welcomed plans for a long-overdue $90 million upgrade of the Adelaide Festival Centre.

The revamp – announced by the State Government as part of a larger Festival Plaza redevelopment – includes improvements to the centre’s exterior appearance, new theatre entries, updated foyers, technical upgrades and a new children’s arts play area.

“These works are very necessary and overdue,” said Adelaide Symphony Orchestra CEO Vincent Ciccarello.

“Certainly the technical aspects [new sound, lighting and stage equipment] are critical in terms of ensuring we have a state-of-the-art facility that is attractive to hirers from overseas and will ensure the economic viability of the centre.”

Karen Bryant, CEO of the Adelaide Festival, agreed that the improvements were “sorely needed”.

She especially welcomed plans to better integrate the Festival Centre with the rest of the surrounding precinct.

“Re-looking at the entrances and opening up the centre more towards the riverside is a great move.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that this whole area needed a rethink as a public space.

“Looking forward, I would hope things like [former Adelaide Festival clubs] Barrio and Lola’s Pergola are ways of demonstrating how the whole precinct could be brought alive for cultural events.”

The redevelopment of the Festival Centre will be the most significant capital works on the building since it opened in 1973, with improvements having been long sought by members of the state’s arts community. In a media release, the centre described the works as marking the start of the redevelopment, adding: “The Government understands that much work still needs to be done on rejuvenating the interior of the building and these additional priorities will be the subject of future discussion.”

The revamp dovetails with the State Government’s commitment to redevelop the Festival Plaza under an agreement with Walker Corporation which will see a 24-storey office tower built next to Parliament House, new restaurants, cafes and retail space, and a new underground carpark.


New entrances to the Festival Centre are planned from the revitalised plaza, while the northern side of the building will be opened up to make it more accessible from Elder Park, with the existing amphitheatre to be demolished and new entries created to the Festival Theatre and Dunstan Playhouse.

The Elder Park Kiosk will undergo an upgrade, while a children’s “interactive arts playground” will be constructed on the riverbank side of the centre, along with an outdoor seating area that could be used for a pop-up café.

$11 million has been earmarked for new technical equipment to upgrade sound, lighting and stage equipment in the performance venues.

State Theatre Company of South Australia artistic director Geordie Brookman welcomed the plans to upgrade technical equipment in the performance spaces and fix the building’s exterior spaces, saying water damage had been a problem for many years.

“It’s wonderful to see the State Government making a significant investment in one of Adelaide’s major cultural institutions and hopefully creating a more vibrant and accessible Festival Centre as a result.”

Asked what other improvements the State Theatre would have liked to see included in the blueprint, Brookman said: “We would love to see provisions made for improvements to the State Theatre Company rehearsal room over the medium term, but we are excited about this new phase in the life of the Adelaide Festival Centre.”

Ciccarello acknowledged there was a risk that the improvements might make it more difficult for local companies such as the ASO to use the Festival Centre because it would be in a better position to attract other promoters – “that’s just an economic reality”.

“I think it is now widely recognised that there is an urgent need for a concert hall in Adelaide – we certainly need another performance venue that’s suitable for music,” he said, but added: “we can’t shy away from the fact that these works [to the Festival Centre] urgently need to be done.”


Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and artistic director Douglas Gautier said the works would fix the exterior of the building and the new technical equipment, while “internal works will make a good start on upgrading the interior”.

“The private and public investment into the carpark, the Plaza and the precinct will ensure the Adelaide Riverbank becomes one of the great public places in Australia,” he said.

“The Adelaide Festival Centre will be integrated with the Plaza at the very heart of the precinct, drawing locals and visitors to the area. We have seen at the Adelaide Oval how an infrastructure investment can help to significantly drive audience growth and we hope to replicate that experience at the Festival Centre.”

Karen Bryant said the important thing would be to ensure all stakeholders were involved as the redevelopment proceeded.

“It’s just about making sure that as these plans progress, that it is still in everyone’s minds that it’s an arts and cultural precinct for the people.”


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