Wellington Town Hall music hub plan gets nod from council

Wellington Town Hall will be transformed into a music hub under a plan approved by the city councillors on Tuesday.
ROSS GIBLIN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington Town Hall will be transformed into a music hub under a plan approved by the city councillors on Tuesday.

Wellington's town hall will be strengthened and transformed into a music hub as part of a $100 million revamp of civic square.

But a call to scrap the wider project and just get on with fixing the town hall failed to gain traction.

City councillors voted to support a plan to strengthen the town hall and turn it into a music hub in partnership with Victoria University and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

The town hall was shut in 2013 for strengthening, but work halted after the cost spiralled from $43m to about $60m. Under the new plan, approved by the council's governance and finance committee on Tuesday, the town hall will be strengthened, the auditorium kept and the building fitted out with recording studios and control rooms.

The Civic Administration Building and Library would also be strengthened. 

The strengthening work would cost $73.2m, while improvements to public space would cost $10.7m and the $12.6m would go to revamping office space. The cost would be offset by renting out the Municipal Office Building and offering Jack Ilott Green and the Michael Fowler Centre carpark for long-term lease for building development.

A bid by Helene Ritchie to push ahead with strengthening the town hall immediately and scrap the other projects, at a cost of $58.5 million failed to gain support, with only Sarah Free and Andy Foster supporting it.

Ritchie had argued the plans to strengthen the civic administration building and library should be scrapped and funding put towards strengthening the town hall immediately.

"The delay of the opening of the town hall from the time of closure ... will be something like eight years if it is ever opened, and the risk of demolition of a languishing town hall is very high."

It was unnecessary to strengthen the civic administration building and library as they were not earthquake prone, and open space should not be lost to make way for buildings, she said.

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Project manager Ian Pike had earlier told councillors that the civic building and library required strengthening because parts were very close to the earthquake-prone level.

Other councillors said the project was a good solution to a complex problem.

Simon Marsh said the people of Wellington wanted the town hall saved: "this is a way to do it".

Justin Lester said this was a way to get on with the job, however he also successfully reduced the budget by $2m to $73.5m as a way of cutting costs He also reduced the budget for revamping office space by $1.5m to $12.6m and cut $475,000 from operational costs for the project. The reductions were small cuts to make savings on rates, he said.

Other councillors called for an assurance any new buildings would be of high quality and any lost green space to be replaced, possibly through green roofs on new buildings. Sarah Free said she did not want the council to take its "hands off the steering wheel" because "$20m isn't enough if we get a fat ugly building".

The total project was eventually approved by all councillors except Free and Ritchie.

The civic centre dominated the first day of debate on the council's Long-Term Plan which sets budgets for the next 10 years. It includes an average rates increase of 3.9 per cent, with a 5.1 per cent increase in 2015-16.

The debate is expected to take two more days. The finalised plan will then go to the full council for sign-off in June.

 - Stuff

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