Ratepayers 'will love' new centre

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 30/09/2013

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Lower Hutt's mayor is promising a multimillion-dollar conference centre for the central city in the next three years.

Ray Wallace said he wanted the centre to target the overseas conference market, with medical conferences from Australia expected to be especially lucrative.

"This is something that would not only benefit the Hutt, but the whole region."

The most likely option was to build the centre on the site of the earthquake-prone Horticultural Hall and Town Hall.

The new facility would take over the functions of those centres, he said.

Retractable walls could offer a flexible space, similar to the newly revamped Shed 6 in Wellington.

The Hutt City Council was investigating options and was expected to report back in November, Mr Wallace said. "They are going to come up with a plan that people will love."

While costings were not completed, a "ballpark" figure for the project was between $7 million and $12m.

"We are in a very good financial position and I believe it can be done without putting major pressure on ratepayers."

Mr Wallace said the council was also in talks with a "major hotel chain" about setting up in Lower Hutt, and he hoped to bring part of a university campus into the central business district too.

Informal talks had been held with Victoria University's School of Architecture, he said. "These are just preliminary talks, but they are under way."

University vice-chancellor Professor Pat Walsh said the university had had no discussions, "preliminary or otherwise", about a Lower Hutt city campus.

Mr Wallace said he had also been in talks with Arizona State University, in Lower Hutt's sister city of Tempe, about the possibility of hosting a campus of the US institution in the CBD.

Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce president Helen Down said it would support building large conference venue. "It would be a great asset to the Hutt Valley, and wider Wellington region."

Lower Hutt mayoral candidate Phil Stratford said a new convention centre would be "outstanding" and fitted with his vision of a lively CBD.

"It's just a shame that it's taken someone snapping at their heels to get them to do it."

The Hutt City Council decided this year to earthquake-strengthen and modernise its heritage Laings Rd administration building, which is next to the proposed conference centre site.

The strengthening is expected to take two years and cost $21.7m, and will start early next year.

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- The Dominion Post

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