Some exciting news – Queensland Ballet (QB) has confirmed that the renovation of the Thomas Dixon Centre on Montague Road is set for completion by the end of April. QB is planning its first performance of Peter and the Wolf in the new theatre for 24 June.

“The majority of the work will be completed on the 29 April. There may be some ancillary landscape work still being finalised and finished, any work after that date, will be relatively minor.”

The Peter and the Wolf production is very special to QB, but it has been delayed several times due to COVID.

“But we feel like it’s an appropriate homecoming to present the long-awaited ballet in our home,” Dilshani Weerasinghe, an executive at QB, told the Westender.

“We’re playfully calling it the ‘festival of openings’ because this project is a heartfelt one for us. We’ve been working on it for a very long time. And we have a lot of engaged supporters, corporate partners, neighbours, and government partners. So, we’re going to find a way to make sure we celebrate with everybody.”

The Thomas Dixon Centre

In 1908, Thomas Dixon, an entrepreneur and visionary, commissioned Richard Gailey, a leading architect of the day, to build his boot factory in Brisbane’s West End.

The heritage-listed centre has been home to Queensland Ballet since 1999. In 2018 the State Government, with the Ballet, embarked on the renovation and refurbishment of the building to transform it into a modern venue while retaining its original heritage values.

The building will now house studio space and a 356-seat Studio Theatre built over three levels for full-scale Company rehearsals and performances. Along with dance spaces, the centre will have bars and cafes open to the public.

An old WW2 bunker will now be an intimate space for visitors, audiences and the general public to enjoy as The Bunker Barre. The QB Café is located at the front of the building. It will serve a variety of meals and refreshments, enabling guests, class participants, staff and visitors to enjoy healthy and casual dining options throughout the day. Both the Bunker Barre and QB Café will be open to the public towards the end of the year. And the Garden Rooms will run the length of Thomas Dixon Centre’s Montague Road frontage.

There will also be a Roof Terrace bar with a standing capacity for 180 available for public gatherings. While there will be live music, the QB team stresses that the type of music and volume will be in keeping with neighbourhood expectations.

Ms Weerasinghe said the theatre had been designed to allow our community to come in and use it as well.

The choice to renovate

QB didn’t choose the easiest ‘home’ to renovate, Ms Weerasinghe said.

“We outgrew our home, and we didn’t make the easiest choice to go elsewhere. We do love the Thomas Dixon Centre, we love her spirit, we love being a part of West End. And this was a really important decision for us to remain here knowing there would be challenges.”

“This is an expanded operation for us and there’s going to be learnings. We’re just hoping that the transparency we try to engender in our communications with our neighbours means that we can keep an ongoing conversation and hopefully end up with a good result.”

Heritage values

Head of Building Projects and Precincts at QB, Lucas Gilroy, said when they started peeling back the layers and lifting old ceilings and seeing what was underneath, it was too good an opportunity not to try and ‘liberate’ the old building.

“A lot of beautiful building assets were buried underneath plaster board and things like that. And so, when you see the building now, all that has been stripped back, all of the timber work has been displayed, all the lead paint has been removed, and the asbestos has been taken from the building.”

We’ve got the beautiful heritage brickwork and beautiful windows and incredible pressed metal ceilings that were very badly damaged. We were able to find a company to reproduce the pressings, and that has been brought back to life.”

Bringing it back to life is a credit to the design team, Mr Gilroy said.

“People will get a real sense of what that building was like in its heyday. It’s very beautiful.”

Traffic and noise impacts.

Traffic, especially during the construction phase, has been a particular issue for nearby residents, and QB is well aware of those concerns, and is seeking to minimise impacts as much as possible.

Delivery trucks’ entry and exit will be on Drake street, and carpark entry and exit points will be on Raven Street. People are concerned about rat-running, noise, parking, and congestion.

Green Building Standards

Ms Weerasinghe told the Westender that QB considered all of these challenges very carefully. For example, they have designed the building to encourage public and active transport. To support staff to get on their bicycles, the design includes 51 bicycle stations around the building and a bicycle workshop under the building with end of trip facilities,

QB has made an allowance in the basement for a closed-loop recycling system of their organic waste to minimise waste and the need for waste collections. The resulting compost will be worked into the herb and vegetable gardens on level three of the building. The garden is for staff and the community.

“Such a big part of the redevelopment revolves around the International WELL™ Building Standard QB is aiming to achieve. Creating a closed-loop recycling system within the centre and using compost in our gardens and surrounding landscapes encourages our staff and visitors to make environmentally-friendly choices.” Mr Gilroy said.

Our landscaped garden rooms and outdoors spaces will be a haven amongst the hustle and bustle of Montague Road, and we encourage our community to enjoy these spaces, or even get their hands dirty in our community garden on-site,” he added.  

The project aims to have the highest WELL Building Standard Platinum rating and will be the first project of this type to achieve such a high rating.

The waste that does go off-site will be managed via the Drake Street dock. Mr Gilroy said QB is aware of the need to limit pick-up hours to minimise impacts on residents.

“We want to be responsible citizens and work with our neighbours and that’s why we’ve gone through extensive community consultation, starting in 2018,” Mr Gilroy said.

“We believe that having the correct public transport infrastructure in place will take a lot of pressure off traffic and an already very busy Montague Road. We are working closely with local community groups to advocate for safer wayfaring along the entirety of the Montague strip.”

Mr Gilroy said they had done as much as possible to make sure they had minimised impacts.

“Once we are into the moving-in stage, we’re always happy to take calls from residents and listen to them.

While have been local concerns, many in the community have embraced the idea of the newly refurbished centre, its theatre, bars and cafes.

One resident I spoke with recently likened the space to The Powerhouse in New Farm:

“It is another iconic building in Brisbane that’s been saved.”

Montague Road Project

QB is working with Kurilpa Futures and other community and residents’ groups, businesses, and retailers to improve amenity for users of Montague Road, Mr Gilroy said. The combined groups are talking about making Montague Road user friendly, child-safe, and responsive to climate impacts.

The Westender will update readers separately about the Montague Road project.

More information

For more details and project updates, see HERE.

For more about the history of the Thomas Dixon Boot and Shoe Factory see Street Walkers’ Guide to West End HERE.

All Image Credits Queensland-Ballet