Mosaic to disappear along with former Hub building

UNIQUE: Nelson's distinctive former Hub building.
UNIQUE: Nelson's distinctive former Hub building.

Nelson's distinctive former Hub building is coming down, along with its mosaic facade.

The Nelson City Council-owned building sports the cherished mosaic along with a poor seismic strength rating, which triggered healthy debate among councillors yesterday at a works and infrastructure committee meeting.

The building on the corner of New and Halstead Sts, which has been vacant for some time, is to be demolished because of its poor seismic rating.

Previously known as the Bata Building, it was used as a community and youth centre more recently know as The Hub, and previously The Artery.

The site is to be turned into a car park, but the council is keen to protect the land for future use.

Initial plans to demolish the building at the peak of the summer tourist season were quashed following a challenge by councillor Matt Lawrey, backed by others who asked that neighbouring businesses, including busy cafes and bars, should be considered.

The committee's recommendation to the full council is that demolition begin no earlier than late February instead.

The council recently called for tenders to demolish the building. The contract was to involve the salvaging of materials, and the building's full demolition and removal.

A separate part of the tender included the possible removal and relocation of the two mosaic panels either side of the main entrance.

However, the cost of saving the artwork could be anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 - possibly more than the total cost of demolition - which made it uneconomic, council group manager of infrastructure Alec Louverdis said.

The psychedelic facade, entitled Eat Your Art Out, cost around $30,000 and was funded with help from the Creative Communities scheme. It was unveiled in 1999.

The council bought the building in late 1997 for $589,000 from Barry Thompson and Bill Moulder. It was paid for from the council's parking fund for a new parking square, and was held for a public work.

Mr Louverdis said any future development of the land by the council was a long way off.

"The building cannot be economically strengthened, leased or occupied. It is an earthquake-prone building with a Section 124 notice to strengthen or demolish," he said.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said she understood the issues around why some people wanted the mosaic retained, and asked if any parts of it could be saved for future use. She said keeping it was also about retaining an expression of the effort that went into creating it.

Councillor Ruth Copeland asked if a recommendation could include wording to suggest that part of the mosiac might be protected during demolition, if this was found to be possible.

A cross-section of the community worked on the facade, including primary school children on school holiday programmes, people on intellectual disability programmes, community wage workers, tourists, and even a Wellington lawyer who took a week off work to contribute.

Each part of the facade was made by twisting metal poles together into the desired shape, covering them with chicken wire and concrete, and then decorating the surface with tiles.

A resource consent and engineering advice were needed to get the artwork on the wall.

Mr Louverdis said he appreciated that some in the community wanted to keep the artwork, but it was his recommendation that the cost would prohibit this.

"The costs of saving it outweigh the benefits of retaining it."

He said councillors could direct that it be saved, but this could cost between $100,000 and $300,000.

A small group plus artist Valeska Campion, who oversaw the mosaic's creation, had signalled that they wanted it salvaged, Mr Louverdis said.

Councillor Tim Skinner said the mosaic was pretty where it was, but he could not see it being pretty elsewhere.

"I don't think we should be getting too heartstrung on this artwork. It's something that's done its piece, but I don't think we should be trying to spend time and expense on trying to retain it," he said.