Deciding Trafalgar Centre's fate needs 'deep thinking'

Trafalgar Centre founder Brian Mills has called for "cool heads" at a meeting to hear from the community and discuss the future of the shut centre.

The city council held the special meeting yesterday after Nelson's main event centre was closed last week because of the risk it posed in the event of a moderate earthquake.

The centre was built by the community and with the help of public money in the 1970s for less than $650,000 but now faces an uncertain future. According to seismic strength ratings under the new building standard (NBS), the southern end of the building upgraded for $7 million in 2009 meets 25 to 30 per cent of NBS, the main section, 20 to 25 per cent and the northern end, 15 per cent of NBS.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said after yesterday's special meeting that the council needed more information before it could make a final decision on whether to close the centre for good or spend money on strengthening it.

At the public forum Mills, Nelson Residents Association vice-president Kerry Neal, and Nelson property investor Gaire Thompson voiced their views on the future of the building. All were in favour of keeping it going.

Mills called for calmness as it was "not a time for emotion".

"This is a time for cool heads, deep thinking, the widest research, consultation and advice, and maximum community participation," he said.

Councillor Eric Davy said the council had several options to look at. He asked Mills what he thought was the best way forward for the building.

"Eric, I am looking at the same crystal ball you are and I find it opaque," Mills said. But his preference would be to strengthen and keep the building going as he thought it would be difficult to replace the Trafalgar Centre on "a site as big", with equal parking provision.

Mills said a multifunction centre was crucial to the city and while he was a proponent of a performing arts centre, which has been on the agenda for Nelson, a multifunction centre in his view was a priority. His view was supported by calls from the public gallery.

Mills also thought the community needed to know more about why the building had been closed.

Reese said she was aware of the community's needs.

"This is obviously a community issue we are looking for a community solution," she said.

Thompson, an avid council watchdog who owns commercial properties in Nelson, and who stood as a candidate in October's election, said there had been earthquake "hysteria" since the Christchurch earthquakes.

"There has been such hysteria that all the building are going to fall down," he said.

Neal, a builder and former city councillor, questioned what insurance company would pay for an undamaged building if the centre was to be pulled down. He told the council there was no need to be concerned about the building being built on an old rubbish dump because of the depth of the building's piles.

He warned the council to be pragmatic and not swayed by "technical" people such as engineers and lawyers as there were always going to be risks.

"You're in the hot seat. You've got to make the decision based on the information that comes to you," he said. "You have a lot of sympathy out in the community right now for what you are trying to deal with. I haven't heard anyone criticise this forum in the way it's being handled."

Councillor Matt Lawrey responded that not listening to lawyers and engineering "could get the city into a lot of trouble".

Reese said the engineering reports on the Trafalgar building would be available to be requested from the council by the end of the day.

The meeting was then closed to the public as the council discussed its options.