$60m for town hall 'shell'

Wellington ratepayers could foot a $60 million bill to strengthen the town hall, only for it to end up as an empty shell, used as a soundstage by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington.

City councillors and staff moved out of the town hall in November, after it was assessed as meeting just 20 to 25 per cent of new building standards. Under 33 per cent is deemed quake prone.

A base isolation system in the foundations was proposed to take the building's strength to 140 per cent of the standards, at a cost of $43.7m. But that figure quickly ballooned to $60m, forcing the council to reassess its options for the building's future.

One option being looked at is to abandon thoughts of councillors and staff returning to the building, and to use it only as a music venue.

A complicating factor is that, after the general election, the issue of super-city amalgamation could be firmly on the agenda. Should amalgamation happen, new premises may be required to house a much bigger council.

The city council currently has a mayor and 14 councillors, but it has supported a proposed model in which a single metropolitan council would have a mayor and 29 councillors.

Councillor Simon Marsh said that, if amalgamation went ahead, "there is really nowhere [in Wellington] at the moment" to have a council chamber.

"I am keen to see all sorts of ideas and opportunities proposed for it, but we do have an auditorium that is really high quality as far as musical performance is concerned. But I am gobsmacked at the quoted figure of $60m."

Paul Eagle said the town hall was the centrepiece of Wellington democracy, and should remain so. "We should be planning for the mayor and up to 30 councillors . . . to be relocated there."

Helene Ritchie also wanted the hall retained as the heart of the council, but held fears for its future. "I am very concerned that the town hall is becoming a derelict building . . . It is an empty shell and a wasted asset. It is a place for the people of Wellington, and that's what it needs to remain.

"But I would not be surprised if there were proposals . . . for developers concerning the town hall and the [adjoining] municipal building."

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said: "We are not prepared to discuss the future of the building before a report has been put to the mayor and councillors - which should be in the next few weeks."

The Dominion Post