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Hutchinson Builders chairman Scott Hutchinson never quite got over the closure of Brisbane’s premier music venue, Festival Hall, in 2003. The self-proclaimed music tragic says he simply doesn’t have any other hobbies.
Hutchinson – who is more used to building office buildings and apartments blocks – said it might not be a great financial investment, but bankrolling the city’s newest live venue, the Fortitude Music Hall, could be his greatest legacy to his hometown.
“We all have a love-hate relationship with Brisbane. But this venue will change Brisbane and we want the anchor to be Fortitude Valley,” Mr Hutchinson said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review.
“There are no big venues in the city anymore. We don’t have an Opera House. The government has got no money so someone had to step in to do it.”
Hutchinson Builders, a Queensland company with annual revenue of $2.6 billion, invested $45 million in the 3000-capacity live venue in the heart of Fortitude Valley, but the investment is already only valued at $30 million.
He’s not fussed it won’t deliver the company spectacular investment returns.
“All around the world music venues are being knocked down for high-rise units because the value of the land for high-rise units prohibits music,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“I had to buy this land [for $23 million last year] with a development application for 350 units so I had to pay that cost and then put a music venue on it. We may borrow against it. The banks have a bit of trouble understanding it. It’s an inter-generational investment.”
Festival Hall – which held concerts from everyone from the Beatles and Bob Dylan to Nirvana and the Stone Roses – was knocked down in 16 years ago for apartments.
Based on the famous Fillmore theatre in Philadelphia – but also paying homage to older Brisbane venues that were torn down including Cloudland and Festival Hall – the Fortitude Music Hall, which includes a string of bars and two moveable chandeliers above the main floor, opens on Friday night.
Mr Hutchinson is quite clear, he’s just the landlord of the venue, which will be run by the team behind Splendour on the Grass music festival in Byron Bay, including former Powderfinger bassist John “JC” Collins.
He said they could have built a 6000-capacity venue, but the Fortitude Music Hall – which has room for 2000 people on the ground floor and another 1000 on a second-level – was in the “sweet spot” in Brisbane’s live music scene.
It will be a mid-ranged sized venue in between smaller clubs, such as The Triffid – which opened in 2014 and was Mr Hutchinson’s first foray into live music venues – and the big arenas of 13,000-seat Brisbane Entertainment Centre at Boondal in the city’s northern suburbs.
“We just want to get music happening in the centre of Brisbane again. There are no big venues here like the Opera House or Corner Hotel,” he said.
In a show of faith in the Fortitude Music Hall, US rock group the National signed up for a show in March next year. It sold out in weeks. A second show was announced – something that would never have happened previously for a similar-sized band who would normally play one gig and leave town.
Being the landlord does have some perks. Mr Hutchinson has his own private viewing room adjacent to the stage where he can indulge his rock-star fantasies and watch the string of local, national and international acts that have signed up to play at the new venue.
It’s a glass room with an eclectic mix of art work, including from Brisbane artist Robert Brownhall, a goat’s head (a nod to his nickname, “The Goat Roper” used on his annual pilgrimage to the Burning Man Festival in California), a crown from the notorious Queensland public servant claiming to be a fake Tahitian prince Joel Morehu-Barlow and signed picture of adult film star Ron Jeremy.
A string of Brisbane rock royalty, including former Powderfinger members Bernard Fanning and Ian Haug, Custard frontman Dave McCormack and the next-generation pop rock group Ball Park Music will play on the sold-out opening night.
Mr Hutchinson admits he gets nostalgic talking about Festival Hall, which – despite it hosting a string of classic rock concerts – was also a boxing arena that didn’t have the best acoustics.
But the Hutchinson chairman says a new venue can create memories for the next generation of Brisbane locals and, perhaps, even inspire them to start a band.
“Festival Hall was shit but it was central and people came into town,” he said.
“There no great vision of mine over this. I saw something that we had and we missed and I wanted to replace it.”
Mr Hutchinson says he will leave the running of the Fortitude Music Hall to the professionals. But who would he most love to headline his new venue?
“Iggy Pop,” he says with a toothy grin. “He’s my No.1 I would rather him than the Beatles.”