Confusion over new halls' name

Last updated 12:42 04/03/2014
Hutt Town Hall

One option: An artist's impression of the conference centre that could replace the Lower Hutt Horticultural Centre and Town Hall.

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A curious aspect of the debate on the future of the two halls is the name of the new facility.

When plans were first unveiled it was variously called a "civic hall" and a "conference centre", with most of the justification for the new building revolving around the economic benefits conferences could bring.

The Hutt News of November 19 recorded the mayor's enthusiasm for a conference centre, which he called a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to rejuvenate the central city.

"We need to revitalise the central city and the conference market will provide new jobs in the hospitality and hotel market."

He went on to note the conference market is worth $258 million for Palmerston North and he hoped the proposed facility would have a similar impact here.

The layout of the proposed new building included seating for 650 and there was talk of targeting the Australian conference market.

As the considerable public disquiet about demolishing the halls has become clear, the emphasis has moved away from the term "conference centre".

Last week's annual plan summed up the confusion nicely.

A number of speakers questioned where existing hall users will go, as the spaces would be too large for community groups.

With the facility having to make money, they said small community groups will be squeezed out by the commercial operator the council plans to use to run the building.

Councillors, officers and the draft plan all referred to the project as a conference or convention centre.

After the issue of the lack of space for community groups was raised, Cr Lisa Bridson challenged the claim that it was a conference centre.

The new building, she said, was a community building that would house a wide range of community groups.

Mayor Ray Wallace said there was confusion over the facility and it needed a new name.

General manager Bruce Sherlock came forth with a catchy title: "Civic Centre seems to have a nice ring to it." The new name failed to stick when Cr Chris Milne challenged the way it was being funded.

"We are going ahead with the conference centre, or whatever we want to call it," he said.

After the meeting architect Matthew ter Boor said he was bewildered by the sudden name change and it showed how confused the whole project has become.

The initial intention was to earthquake strengthen the halls. The Seismic Working Group then unveiled a plan for a conference centre with large open spaces, he said.

Without changing the design, it has now become a community centre and he said that completely changes the entire concept.

"The impact of that (claiming it is not a convention centre) in terms of functionality is just huge."

What is needed for community groups is lots of small spaces, which the council's design does not include.

"Where are the knitting clubs going to go?"

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