Councillors unanimously approved the spending at the City Strategy Committee meeting.
The original budget for the work was $14.9 million, but intrusive investigations revealed the extent of further work - about $8.1 million of complex strengthening work, more steel and additional foundation work - needed to bring the building up to 67 percent of National Building Standard.
Councillors also backed spending $8.6 million to upgrade staging, lighting, sound and rigging systems, as well as the fire protection, mechanical and electrical systems. The auditorium will also be repainted and the seats replaced.
“The St James is a jewel in our arts crown and one of the loveliest heritage buildings we have,” says Mayor Justin Lester, who holds the City Council’s Arts and Culture Portfolio.
“This presents a golden opportunity to do a good job on the St James, which has been part of Wellington’s history since 1912 and we want it to remain a premier performance venue.
“We need to get on and do it. If we don’t strengthen it the only other choice, which would be required by law, would be to demolish it. I don’t think that’s an option.”
As part of the renovation, the St James could also be transformed into a hub and be a more permanent home for Wellington art organisations, the Mayor says.
The money would come out of capital expenditure so could be borrowed and be paid off over 50 years.
Councillor Nicola Young, the association Arts and Culture Portfolio holder, says it would be a tragedy for Wellington and the arts if the St James were to be demolished.
“I know it’s expensive but I believe we have no option.”
The work means the theatre will remain closed until late 2021, and it will not be available for the February 2020 New Zealand Arts festival.
“We are working closely with WREDA and the Arts Festival organisers to identify alternative arrangements,” the Mayor says.