Rebuilding Christchurch Arts Centre may take years, cost $100m

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2011

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Christchurch earthquake

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Every Christchurch Arts Centre building was seriously damaged in last month's earthquake, and it could cost $100 million to repair and rebuild the historic centre.

All the buildings are red-stickered, except for the 1960s registry building, but Arts Centre director Ken Franklin has vowed to rebuild the most valuable heritage buildings.

"There is no question about backing away from this task," he said.

The Observatory building in the North Quadrant has collapsed, the Clock Tower has a large crack and a tower above the Coffee Corner cafe was destroyed. Stone gables have collapsed, facades are tilting and thick cracks run through many walls.

Tenants such as the Dux de Lux, Southern Ballet and the weekend market stallholders are keen to return to a restored Arts Centre, although the Court Theatre is considering a search for a permanent home elsewhere.

Franklin said the Clock Tower building was the main focus of the repair work. Large metal structures are holding the Clock Tower in place. The facade may have to be taken down and rebuilt brick by brick.

"The Clock Tower is the most important heritage element we have, which is why we have taken this dramatic and urgent action to stop it slumping further," he said.

"We have got limited funds, and so this has to be a priority."

Franklin said the remains of the Observatory base would be retained, but a modern tower would be built on top.

The remains would stand as a "significant reminder to future visitors of the strength of the quake", he said.

Comprehensive insurance coverage for the Arts Centre complex was raised from $95 million to $120m in January.

Franklin said the Arts Centre may require additional funding of about $25m to complete quake-strengthening work.

He could give no timeframe for when tenants could return, but said it could take years to fully restore the Arts Centre.

Court Theatre chief executive Philip Aldridge said he was considering a search for a new theatre.

"It is far too early to comment on that, but it has to be part of everyone's thinking," he said. "It is our intention to start producing theatre as soon as possible.

"Longer term, it is vitally important that the Court Theatre is part of the fabric of the city."

Dux de Lux owner Richard Sinke said he wanted to reopen his bar "as soon as possible".

The damaged building could reopen before repairs were completed on the rest of the Arts Centre site, he said.

"The Dux is the centre of hospitality in Christchurch and is the kind of place people will need when the city starts to reopen," he said.

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Stallholders at the weekend market are keen to return.

Arts Centre business manager Nigel Shatford said that in the meantime the market could use structures erected in North Hagley Park for the Ellerslie International Flower Show.

They had power and portable toilets.

"There are 100 little businesses in the market and it is really crucial we get up and running," he said.

Southern Ballet artistic director Lorraine Peters said the organisation was looking at medium-term accommodation to the south of the city centre and in northwest Christchurch, but was keen to return to the Arts Centre.

"We have been at the Arts Centre for 37 years. It is our home," she said.

"We want to get back there, but it will be some time. We could be in our new home for a long, long time."

Franklin said he was amazed no-one died at the Arts Centre.

Masonry rained down on crowded areas during the quake, he said.

- The Press

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