Centre's closure is a huge shock to founder

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:00 14/12/2013

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Trafalgar Centre founder Brian Mills said he was in utter shock at the news that the civic building he had "lived, slept and dreamt", had suddenly closed.

"Oh my God. My God. Eight years of work. I can't believe it.

"I'm so shocked to hear that. I put so much of my life into that building," a stunned Mr Mills said yesterday.

He held a glimmer of hope that the council was at least taking time to consider options for its future, but he was upset for all the people who supported its development, and who carried on to see it come to fruition against considerable opposition at the time.

The efforts and angst around the planning and building of the Trafalgar Centre was akin to the multiple attempts in recent years to get a purpose-built performing arts centre off the ground in Nelson.

Former Nelson city councillor Seddon Marshall, who served 11 consecutive terms on the council from 1968 to 2001, remembered the debate over the Trafalgar Centre, and frustration over delays in decisions which led to increased costs.

The angst was over the portion of public money set aside for the development, which according to Mr Marshall was about $150,000. The budget was boosted by the community, clubs and service organisations such as Nelson West Rotary, which put in huge efforts to raise money for the project, club secretary Ian Christison, told the Nelson Mail in 2009.

There was no doubt a collective sigh of relief from supporters on opening day in February 1973.

Mr Mills, who was a member of the service organisation Nelson Jaycees, recalled yesterday how it all started. "Every year we [Jaycees] ran a major Christmas or New Year holiday carnival.

"One year, in the mid-1960s, we happened to make a lot of money and the president of Jaycees asked what we should spend it on."

Mr Mills said the answer lay in Nelson's obvious lack of a venue for large crowds to be entertained.

"I wrote a report to the Jaycees, saying what I thought, ‘we should look at an indoor stadium'."

A committee was formed and included a mix of people interested in the city's growth and development. The late Sir Jack Newman chaired the fundraising committee, which at the time was the single-biggest fundraising effort Nelson had seen.

The journey to completion took many years, and included a number of options, such as extending the Stoke Hall to building on Miller's Acre.

"That just drove it along. It took a number of years to create a concept," Mr Mills said. Trips were taken around the country to look at various large public buildings.

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Final plans for the Trafalgar Centre, which was modelled on the Rotorua sportsdome, were drawn up by Nelson's modernist architect, the late Alex Bowman.

"Our building became the biggest of its type for accommodating large crowds.

"It hosted many big conferences, including one for the Jehovah's Witnesses when 3500 people attended over five days.

"The Trafalgar Centre created huge momentum for the conference industry in Nelson," Mr Mills said.

He said that was due to the enormous effort by a lot of people who gave years of their lives to make it happen.

"That centre brought tens of millions of dollars of economic benefit to the city.

"Many said what we were doing was an impossible dream, but I lived, slept and dreamt the project, which in the end reached all corners of the community."

TIMELINE

February 1973: Trafalgar Centre opens; hosts sports events, touring music and theatrical shows, conferences, competitions, awards nights, graduation ceremonies, political gatherings and sports contests over the next 30 years.

1990 World of WearableArt Awards makes Trafalgar Centre its home until 2004.

1996 sees it become the city's premier performing arts and cultural centre after the Majestic Theatre burned down.

February 2006, city council approves plans to develop Rutherford and Trafalgar parks into Nelson's major events hub. May 2007: Council announces $4.7 million extension and upgrade of the ageing facility.

July 2007: Announcement made on multi million-dollar sports stadium at Saxton Field – three times the size of the Trafalgar Centre – aimed at attracting national sports events, while fostering sport and recreation in the Nelson region.

January 2008: Details revealed on a $6.5 million revamp of the centre, including a 1400-square-metre extension to the building's southern side. The upgrade was completed in 2009.

June 2009: The city's inclusion as a venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup rekindled discussion over the future of the Trafalgar Centre, which was used as a media centre, hosting and volunteer centre.

2012-13: Part of the $3 million set aside in the annual plan for improvements to the building, including a new kitchen and toilets and the planned upgrade to the building's northern end, diverted into an investigation into options for the building's future.

Friday, December 13, 2013: Council closes Trafalgar Centre.

- The Nelson Mail

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