Trafalgar Centre future looks shaky

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:30 27/07/2013

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The spectre of a budget blowout and possible closure lurks over Nelson's only large indoor venue, the Trafalgar Centre, as earthquake and liquefaction concerns grow.

Mayor Aldo Miccio yesterday confirmed that a temporary ban on bookings after March 31 next year had been lifted, but said the future of the 40-year-old sports and cultural centre was in question.

The Fico Finance Nelson Giants, based there for home games for more than three decades, discovered on Tuesday that bookings were not being accepted after March and feared that they would have nowhere to play next season, with devastating consequences for their income.

But Mr Miccio said the booking ban had been mistakenly imposed by council staff at the beginning of the month after some money was allocated for earthquake strengthening in 2013-14. Once the Nelson Mail drew it to his attention on Wednesday he gave an assurance on Thursday morning that the block, which he had not known of and had "caused a bit of angst unnecessarily" was removed.

It was still in place at 5pm on Thursday, when Giants director Steve Fitchett checked at the centre's office, but again yesterday morning the mayor said it had been lifted and that the basketball season would not be affected by a potential closure.

The council has set aside $3 million of the $10.2m allocated last year via its 10-year plan to upgrade the Trafalgar Centre, to address issues raised in the earthquake and geotechnical assessments of the building.

Mr Miccio said there would be an engineering report presented to the council on August 8. None of the Trafalgar Centre's three sections met the required earthquake standard, he said, all falling between 25 and 30 per cent of the code, with 33 per cent the minimum acceptable.

This includes the 1400-square-metre extension and redeveloped southern end, completed in 2009 as part of a $7m upgrade which also added new toilets, improved acoustics and more seating.

The next council following the October local body elections would have to look again at the centre's future, he said.

The three options were to do nothing and keep operating without strengthening or improvements, to complete the necessary earthquake strengthening, or to carry out both strengthening and the planned upgrade.

The Trafalgar Centre, like all of Port Nelson's industrial area and other parts of the city fringing the coast, is built on reclaimed land which is prone to liquefaction in the event of a severe earthquake.

Mr Miccio said work to mitigate liquefaction "requires sinking something around the whole perimeter of the Trafalgar Centre, I think, but I don't know the ins and outs".

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"It's a lot of work. It definitely puts a question mark over its future, but it doesn't necessarily rule out its future."

He said that as with other public buildings around New Zealand that had failed to meet earthquake standards, in the meantime the Trafalgar Centre would carry an earthquake risk warning and operate as usual.

He could not say what the decision on its future might be but the upgrade was certainly at risk. Enough had changed to warrant another decision.

"Whenever the works happen or don't happen, it won't be during the basketball season," Mr Miccio said. "It would just be silly to do it then. We just have to find the best time when it affects the least number of people.

"I don't want to pre-empt what any future council would do but my view of it would be to keep operating it and find the best prudent way to actually get it up to code."

Mr Fitchett said a closure from March 31 would have been "a nightmare" for the Giants.

"We're now in a position where we're trying to recontract a coach, we're trying to contract players, and if we haven't got the Trafalgar Centre, to put it bluntly, we're buggered."

"If Nelson didn't come out and support the Giants, we would not exist, because we wouldn't have the money."

The next biggest venue was the Nelson College gym with seating for about 500, Mr Fitchett said, nowhere near enough to fund the team. Saxton Stadium had restricted numbers and would not be an option.

"The bit that's frustrating is that they didn't tell us what was happening.

"I hope it's all going to work out. We were the only team still in the league from day one and we're quite proud of that. If we miss out because of the bloody building, I'd be pretty grumpy."

THE TRAFALGAR CENTRE

Was built as a multipurpose venue by the Nelson City Council and opened in 1972. Has been the home of the Nelson Giants for more than three decades. Is used for a range of events including Ecofest, touring music and theatrical shows, conferences, competitions, awards nights, graduation ceremonies, political gatherings and sports contests. Has had several costly upgrades involving additions, new fittings and essential maintenance. Seats about 2000 for basketball games and 2500 if the centre's temporary seating is used on the court area for cultural events. Was annually transformed into the venue for the Montana World of WearableArt Awards for 15 years until 2004. Has been frequently criticised as inadequate for use as the city's premier performing arts and cultural centre while doubling as a sports stadium, especially since the Majestic Theatre burned down in 1996. In one of its more unusual bookings, was used for a packed four-hour teaching session by the Dalai Lama in 2002.

- The Nelson Mail

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