Council give cultural precinct the go ahead

The Marlborough District Council has backed a proposal to build a riverside cultural precinct.

At a full meeting of the council yesterday, the 13 councillors and mayor Alistair Sowman voted to go ahead with a series of lease and property purchase decisions that would enable the redevelopment of a riverside precinct to go ahead with a new building to house a library, art gallery, and other community hub activities.

The decisions were made in a part of the meeting which had the public excluded.

Sowman said earlier this was because the discussions involved commercially sensitive aspects around leases and purchases.

In a statement made after the meeting ended last night, the council said it had agreed to proceed with negotiations to buy two sites in High St to prepare the way for the future redevelopment.

The two sites are 13 High St, an empty building previously occupied by PC Media, and 9-13 High St, leased to Warehouse Stationery. Sowman said discussions are continuing with other property owners in the High and Wynen streets area.

"Our proposal to develop a new precinct near the river is still in its early stages. But councillors support the overall concept and, once the parameters of the overall site are settled, we will begin the planning and consultation processes to see what can be achieved here."

There had been informal discussion about public green space and markets as well as a library-information hub and art gallery plus the possibility of a showcase for Rangitane's Wairau Bar treasures, Sowman said.

"We got very good feedback on the general concept during the annual plan process earlier this year and I expect there will be many more ideas about what could be created but there will be plenty of time to consider all the opportunities."

There had been about 60 submissions during the annual plan that discussed a proposal to revitalise Blenheim's central business district, including the revamping of the High and Wynen streets area alongside the Taylor River.

Councillors also approved finalising a lease of its property previously leased to No 1 Shoe Warehouse in the council-owned Civic Theatre block.

"Council is currently in discussion with prospective tenants."

One of those prospective tenants is the Primary Health Organisation.

The proposal to turn the civic theatre block into offices led the council to develop the "cultural precinct" idea for the riverside area.

Earlier town plans had the library, which has outgrown its Arthur St site, moving into the civic theatre building when the theatre moved to its new site on Hutcheson St.

A decision has yet to been made on a timeframe for the project although the mayor and councillors have indicated the timeframe would have to take into account the need for council to meet its core infrastructure responsibilities. Sowman said the central business district project was likely to be a staged development, completed over several years.

More detailed work on costs and timeframes would be considered in the coming months.