A new lease of life for Trafalgar?

The Trafalgar Centre has now been closed for six months. Is the council close to making a definitive decision about its future?

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese responds: Yes we are. Today a report heads to the council meeting titled "Trafalgar Centre - Way Forward to Reopening".

I gave a commitment that council would make a decision on fixing the centre, or not, before the end of June.

I think it's worth recapping how we got to this point.

The Trafalgar Centre is Nelson's premier events centre but it's been long overdue for some upgrade work. Like a few too many projects in Nelson it is a half done job.

While the first part of the upgrade was completed in 2009, the second stage was not planned to start until July this year.

The centre was to be closed while this work was carried out. But by early 2013 problems with the Trafalgar Centre in relation to earthquake risk were found - both liquefaction risk and structural deficiencies.

By August 2013 council received a report detailing the earthquake assessment along with a repair cost of more than $25 million.

At that stage further work was commissioned to peer review the assessment and to determine the risk to public safety - should the building be closed?

The previous council asked that this work be reported back after the local body election. So in October last year as I was settling into my new role as mayor I knew a rather unpleasant issue was going to be before council reasonably quickly.

By late November the extent of the issue and the risk to public safety was reported back to the Works and Infrastructure Committee.

Due to the risk of catastrophic failure the advice was to close the Trafalgar Centre until strengthening work was undertaken and that was the committee's recommendation to the council. In December last year the council made the agonising decision to close.

No one wanted to do this.

The default position was "no" to closure; everyone wanted to keep the centre open if at all possible. But faced with the advice on catastrophic failure the only reasonable response was to close until strengthening work was undertaken.

In the intervening months that advice has not changed. The next step was how to fix the problem. The repair cost remained at $25m-plus.

Rightly, your councillors have asked a lot of questions. They tested and pushed back on your behalf.

We said $25m was too much and we set up a project team to re-examine the problem and look for a more cost effective solution.

And the positive news that is coming to council today is that they have identified solutions that can significantly reduce the cost.

The southern end will likely need work above and below ground, but the extent of the below ground work needs to be further refined to determine how this can be limited.

The main hall, northern end, and Civil Defence sections of the building are likely to need above ground work only.

In the August 2013 reports, nearly $24m of the $25m cost was for below ground work across the site. With the new advice a solution now looks practically and financially viable.

Today, council will be asked to start the process to get the Trafalgar Centre reopened.

The council will also be asked to rethink the planned northern extension and to reduce the scale in light of the ground conditions in that area.

The Trafalgar Centre is a building that adds a lot of value to the city of Nelson. It's time to give it a new lease of life.

That's what I hope we decide to do today - build on the good bones, fix the problems, finish the job once and for all, and reopen the doors.

  • Ask The Mayor was received on Wednesday morning. Council discussion and decision-making on the issue from today's meeting will be updated on nelsonmail.co.nz and in the Nelson Mail.

The Nelson Mail