Christchurch Town Hall to be saved

KEY FIGURE: Sir Miles Warren suggested the entire performing arts precinct should be moved to Victoria Square.
KEY FIGURE: Sir Miles Warren suggested the entire performing arts precinct should be moved to Victoria Square.

City councillors have voted to fully restore the earthquake-damaged Christchurch Town Hall.

They had to make the decision today, as the Government is expecting a decision on the shape of the performing arts precinct - as outlined in the central-city blueprint - by the end of the week.

It will cost $127.5 million, including a maximum $68.9m insurance contribution, with another $30m (plus contributions) put aside for the arts precinct.

Mayor Bob Parker argued for maximum restoration and retention of the Town Hall.

"This building represents something you can't replace," he said. "It's a building that all of us can identify with. I'm sure all of us have a story."

For Parker, he had watched his son graduate there, been involved in productions and watched several civic ceremonies.

"This is an important complex that must not be lost," he said.

He also pointed out that saving the Town Hall did not remove the "other great ideas" the council was committed to developing.

"It's not just an icon of our city, not just a place in our hearts but also a building that has sent a message to the world about what we have achieved in this city."

Maximum retention and restoration means the outside of the building will remain visually unchanged apart from some angle bracing, which will be installed around Boaters Restaurant.

The Limes Room will be retained and restored, and Boaters and the Cambridge Room rebuilt.

New lighting, audio-visual and sound systems will be installed, the size of the entrance foyer increased and the acoustics upgraded in the James Hay Theatre.

Cr Peter Beck said it was clear the Town Hall stood up well to the earthquakes.

It was important to retain part of the city's heritage and he was sad to see many buildings lost. "Let's not lose that sense of soul that makes this the city we are.''

Cr Jamie Gough moved an amendment that would defer a final decision until March next year.

This, he said, would give time for the council's cost-sharing arrangement with the Government to be reviewed so it could allow the council to consider detailed options and costings for the entire performing arts precinct.

"I'm asking that we pause on this decision ... in a bid to get the most robust of decsions.''

But this was rejected by councillors who said the city wanted a decision now, not in six months time.

Councillors also agreed that the development of a performing arts precinct should include the fully restored Town Hall, a new Court Theatre and homes for the Music Centre of Christchurch and the CSO.

The council also agreed to separate the budgets for the Town Hall and the performing arts precinct, with $30m (plus contributions) put aside for the precinct.

The arts community will be further consulted about what they require from each of the performance spaces.

Performing arts groups will be consulted about the effectiveness of the James Hay Theatre and as a viable facility.

Cr Tim Carter abstained from voting because of a conflict of interest.


Two of the city's leading architects today made personal pleas to restore the Christchurch Town Hall - the building they jointly designed.

Sir Miles Warren and Maurice Mahoney appeared before the city council, which is debating a recommendation to spend $127.5 million restoring the building.

Mahoney said it would be easy to reduce the James Hay Theatre's capacity if that suited the needs of future users.

It was impossible to remove one part of the Town Hall without affecting the rest of the buildings, he said.

"Please keep your promise to restore the complex to 100 per cent,'' Mahoney said.

Warren said the entire performing arts precinct should be moved to Victoria Square next to the Town Hall, where there was enough room to accommodate all the arts groups that wanted central-city space.

Restoring only part of the Town Hall would leave the city without its "living room'' and it would cease to be its pride and joy, he said.

The arts community made last-minute pleas to the council.

A new James Hay Theatre was needed if the entire Town Hall was to be rebuilt, freelance composer and conductor Luke Di Somma told councillors.

He said the theatre had bad acoustics and "does not work'' for live performances.

Functionality of the venue was vital, he said.

Di Somma asked the council to form a working party to investigate how the entire facility could be fixed to attract top performers from around the world.

The Town Hall was designed as a base for performing arts and should be reconfigured with that in mind, he said.

Reducing the theatre's capacity to make it more affordable for use by the public would be better than keeping capacity at high levels and unaffordable for the community, he said.

Mayor Bob Parker assured Di Somma those demands would be met according to the council recommendations on the redevelopment.

Isaac Theatre Royal chief executive Neil Cox said the Town Hall would be a key feature of the city's new performing arts precinct.

He said a performing arts precinct was vital for the city, and the Town Hall was a key part.

He warned that retaining the capacity of the James Hay Theatre would directly compete with his theatre's 320 "cheap seats'' on its second level.

A compatible venue like the James Hay was welcome, but getting the right balance so both venues could meet the demands of performing artists was crucial, he said.

The theatre was there to support the wider arts community but a "collaborative process'' to redevelop the Town Hall and James Hay was critical so all venues could benefit.

He did not want to see work done on the Town Hall site that was already being done at the Theatre Royal. 

The Press