Remember Festival Hall? The storied venue was once the centre of Brisbane’s live music scene. Partly because it was quite literally in the centre of the city, but also because of its size – with a capacity of 4000, it was the sweet spot for high profile independent touring acts. In its latter years, Radiohead, Massive Attack, Tool, Beck and The Stone Roses all performed there.
Festival Hall closed way back in 2003. And while Brisbane doesn’t lack for quality live music spaces – The Zoo, The Tivoli and The Triffid all foot it with some of the best in the country – nothing has ever really moved in to that higher capacity slot.
Until now. Today saw the announcement of 312 Brunswick, a $40 million, 3300-capacity live entertainment venue set to open on Brunswick Street Mall in mid-2019. The site has been purchased by Hutchinson Builders’ Scott Hutchinson, Secret Sounds Group’s Paul Piticco and former Powderfinger bassist John Collins. Together, the three already own and operate The Triffid in Newstead.
“There’s been a gap in the industry for that 3000 to 4000 crowd,” Hutchinson says. “Our experience across the Triffid and Paul’s work with Secret Sounds is that there’s a gap that artists and bands want. Brunswick Street really fills that.”
John Collins mentions Liam Gallagher and Angus & Julia Stone as examples of artists that would fill 312 Brunswick Street. “Liam Gallagher isn’t playing a Brisbane show. He’s who we’d cater to,” he says. “Bernard [Fanning] could do one at 312. Bands like Dune Rats and Violent Soho, as well.
“Something like Festival Hall is exactly what we’re trying to do. Something in town that’s close to amenities. And it will be really good for the Valley too.”
The 2500-square-metre site sits next to McWhirters and opposite the TCB building. Most recently an Optus Centre, it will be rebuilt as a theatre and functions facility, with 1500 square metres dedicated to the venue and the remaining space turned over to a mix of retail, food and beverage tenancies.
“I think that’s one of the most exciting parts,” Hutchinson says. “It’s the missing link [after] the Brisbane City Council redevelopment [of the mall]. It’s exciting to see something go in there and reactivate that side of the mall.”
Originally built as a Coles supermarket in 1957, initial plans call for the building to recapture some of that history with “a modernised ’50s facade”. The interior will be handled by a collaboration between Hutchinson Builders’ own designers and acoustics consultant company Arup – the same team that oversaw the conversion of The Triffid from a World War II blister hangar into one of the better-sounding live music venues in Brisbane.
The news follows last week’s announcement that West End’s Max Watts would be closing. In a statement on Facebook, Max Watts management blamed the closure on an inability to come terms with their landlord coupled with the “aggressive competition” and “higher costs” of the Brisbane live music market.
Hutchinson remains upbeat, though: “We’ve got JC [John Collins] and Paul involved,” he says. “Paul in particular has a really good feel for what the market wants given he runs Secret Sounds, Splendour in the Grass and Falls Fest. He knows he can get people excited about this capacity.”
The Zoo owner Pixie Weyand agrees, saying inner Brisbane has for a long time lacked a decent medium-to-large capacity venue. “It’s ideal for the Valley to have something like that,” she says. “It helps put Brisbane on the map and shows how serious we are about live music – how much we care about it.
“It’s tough. The Max Watts guys used the term ‘aggressive’ regarding the local market. Brisbane is very saturated with venues, which is not a problem in itself, but can become a problem when ticket prices are too high and punters aren’t going out.
“Having something like this makes promoters take Brisbane seriously,” Weyand continues. “A show that may not have come here before will now come here. It rattles the scene a bit. Besides, the Valley needs a bit of a scrub-up.”
312 Brunswick is expected to open in mid-2019.