“I was so horrified” – Why Scott Hutchinson has put $43 million into building a new Festival Hall
Sydney’s music scene wasn’t the only one to take a hit when the scourge of lockout laws took grip of Australia’s nightlife.
1am and 3am lockouts, as well as compulsory ID scanners, were a huge blow to Brisbane’s entertainment precinct, Fortitude Valley.
As small clubs, bars and music venues felt the burn from the draconian laws, a group of people made the decision to stand up and change the situation.
This is how Hutchinson Builders Chairman Scott Hutchinson came to put up $43 million of his own funding to create a replacement for Brisbane’s beloved Festival Hall, which was torn down in 2003 to make way for apartment buildings.
“I was just horrified. It’s just the most ridiculous thing,” Hutchinson tells TMN of his response to the lockout laws.
“You should be encouraging nightlife not shutting it down, and it’s not about safety at all, it’s puritanism, pure and simple. That’s why I dressed as Oliver Cromwell and led the marches.”
Hutchinson (left) dressed as Oliver Cromwell participating in the 2010 Queensland lockout protests
Hutchinson then went a step further than protests, joining powers with Secret Sounds co-founder Paul Piticco and former Powderfinger member/current owner of The Triffid John ‘JC’ Collins to build a new venue that is currently known as The Fortitude, or The Fort for short.
“We’ve poured a couple of slabs with detailed demolition, we’re getting all that organised, we’re getting the structure under the floor sorted and we’ll have the roof on by the end of September,” says Hutchinson.
“It’s moving fast because we didn’t have to get it financed. I’m just using cash out of our own supply because that’s the best way to get things moving.”
Despite the venue’s prime position smack dab in the middle of the Valley’s pumping Brunswick Street, that $43 million in financing has equated to a valuation of $25 million.
As Hutchinson impresses, while they weren’t thrilled with the valuation, the idea was never to make money out of the venture but rather to resuscitate an industry that’s slowly drowning.
“We didn’t think we’d lose that much but in the end, I don’t have any other interests, I don’t do planes or boats or cars or anything, I just like music and going out in Brisbane, and festivals, so I said, ‘Well, let’s do it.’
“Hutchinson [Builders] have the resources to do something like this and someone has to do it because the value of inner city land is determined by how many units you can get on a site.
“This is over half an acre in the middle of the entertainment precinct so it’s going to be much more expensive than music can afford, so somebody’s got to take the hit for this sort of thing to happen.”
The 3,500 capacity venue will be the much-needed middle ground between the smaller venues that litter the Valley and bigger venues like the 9,500 capacity Riverstage and the Brisbane Entertainment centre 14km away from the city in Boondall.
Construction is underway on The Fort
“Riverstage is wonderful if it doesn’t rain, but it has got some noise issues and it’s getting a bit old now. Boondall is just appalling and needs to be knocked down. There’s nothing of any size in the middle of town.
“This is right in the middle of where there’s other live music, there’s a lot of bars, restaurants; this will lift Fortitude Valley and it will lift the whole town.”
While Hutchinson might have put up the cash for The Fort, he brushes off any insinuation that he’s doing it for the good PR.
“I get pulled up by strangers at Splendour and people thanking me that I don’t know. It’s wonderful. Whenever they do it, I feel, thanks for taking the time. It’s great that people think like that.
“However, that’s not my aim. It’s not to make a hero out of myself, the only bit that’s self-serving is that I’m going to enjoy it too. But I’m going to enjoy the same as everybody else who goes there.”
If construction keeps going as well as it has been, Hutchinson is confident that bands will be gracing The Fort stage as early as May 2019. But, who would be on the ideal opening night lineup?
“I think for opening night, I’d love to see an all Brisbane thing. I’d love to see Violent Soho, The Saints, Ball Park Music, Powderfinger but that’s not going to happen, don’t even start that rumour,” laughs Hutchinson.
The Fort is set to be one of the biggest projects in Brisbane music history, but ultimately Hutchinson’s hopes are humble.
“I want to keep the Valley, the Valley. To have more small music venues hanging off it, to have great bars hanging off it, and for the Valley to be the wonderful, lively entertainment precinct it always has been.”