Junee’s Athenium Theatre became the latest Australian regional theatre to be restored and reopened in recent times, providing yet another reminder of the potential of Yass’ dormant assets, the Liberty Theatre.

The refurbishments at the Athenium Theatre included a new commercial kitchen, storage, outdoor function space, and new air conditioning, using three NSW Government grants totalling almost $1.1 million.

Renowned heritage cinema consultant Paul Brennan estimated the Liberty Theatre in Yass could earn similar grants, which would cover most of the refurbishment costs.

“You would only have to spend $1-1.1 million on the Liberty to have it be an absolutely grand performing arts, concert and cinema venue, which would be unlike anything else that’s in New South Wales.”

Inside the theatre restoration of the Athenium

Mr Brennan spent much of 2020 engaging the community and potential buyers of the Liberty Theatre by current owners Touie and Denise Smith.

“The Regent Theatre in Mudgee was recently sold for $1 million, and it’s going to take about $3 million to rescue and reopen that.”

Paul said 2020 involved meeting with many people who held an interest in buying the Liberty Theatre, and expected there was more interest to come, especially post the Council election in September.

“Last year, we had a number of interested parties coming to look at the theatre and inspect it, and everyone is extremely positive about the theatre’s future.”

“Once that September Council election comes along, you’re going to see an influx of very wealthy entrepreneurial 35-40-year-olds come into Yass and buy up the main street and turn it into one of the most fantastic, functioning heritage towns in Australia,” he said.

Paul believes the next Council must have an entrepreneurial mindset to make the most of the “new money” coming to Yass, who see Yass’ proximity to Canberra and Murrumbateman as a vantage point for investment.

“New money and new entrepreneurial ideas that are coming in and will come in, in October of this year.”

“Given that you have Murrumbateman down the road and all that housing estate, plus Canberra only 40 minutes away, you’re going to see a joining of the three areas,” he said.

Paul has worked tirelessly across the past year to create a portfolio to support whoever the new owners end up being.

“Whoever buys it will find there is a huge portfolio which I completed last year, of all the government grants and support connections.”

“A portfolio of support which would get triggered for anyone who buys the theatre which will explain how to go about getting additional funding so that it’s fitted out with what it needs,” he said.

Paul contended that the Liberty Theatre had just as much potential as any other regional theatre reopened in recent times.

“What the Liberty has more than anything else, is a particular style which the public find really appealing and therefore suppliers would find really appealing.”

“There’s about six businesses that can run out of that theatre.”

“This is such a landmark building that is famous around Australia, and it’s now famous for not being open,” he said.

He also wanted to reiterate that the Liberty could hold something for everyone.

“Everyone supports the reopening of this theatre, but when it reopens, it’s not just going to be a playhouse for a certain group of people.”

“It will be a professional venue of a world-class standard in a world-class heritage town, that’s having a rev-up of tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

Paul believes Yass’ two great, dormant assets, the Liberty Theatre and its over the road neighbour, the Commercial Hotel, could be reinvigorated under a new, more entrepreneurially focused Council.

“The ones who come in will be very active in refreshing this town, and the high point of refreshing this town is the Commercial Hotel and the Liberty Theatre,” he said.

With Junee joining Bingara, Grafton, Oberon and Leeton as reopened theatres in regional New South Wales, and with Mudgee expected to follow soon, the Liberty Theatre remains on the market.

Max O’Driscoll