Arts precinct plans may need a rethink and shrink

CHARLIE GATES AND GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 23/04/2014

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The performing arts precinct might have to be rethought after the Government revealed it has stopped buying land for the central-city anchor project.

The move confirms the already troubled project is in serious doubt, but Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee insists it may still happen "in some form".

Plans for the Court Theatre, the Music Centre and facilities for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) on the block bounded by Gloucester, Armagh, New Regent and Colombo streets were being developed by the Christchurch City Council.

The Government was to acquire and supply land for the project as part of the cost-sharing agreement with council.

Deputy mayor Vicki Buck yesterday revealed the Government had put the brakes on the whole project by saying it may reconsider providing land for the precinct.

The council had "received some official advice from the Crown that it intended to look to change its position about the provision of land", she said.

The Government said land purchases were on hold until a plan for the precinct was confirmed, but a council spokesman said certainty around land was needed to develop a plan.

Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs said the Crown had already purchased four out of 10 properties in the block.

"There remains sufficient land for the three core tenants - CSO, Music Centre and the Court Theatre - and for public space, with the potential for some private sector development," he said.

"So we are hopeful we can deliver on the vision for a performing arts precinct."

Brownlee said "realising the vision of the precinct in some form may still occur"..

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the council was committed to the project.

"We had been aware that land acquisition has been an ongoing issue . . . we remain committed to working with the Crown to resolve any outstanding issues," she said.

"The performing arts precinct must happen as soon as possible to assist and encourage the social recovery of Christchurch, a city that is proud of both its creative talent and its performers."

After months of speculation, Brownlee yesterday lifted the designation on the northern block of the performing arts precinct, freeing up private land owners to redevelop.

The original performing arts precinct designation included nine properties north of Armagh St. The northern part of the precinct had not been required since council made the decision to repair the Town Hall.

The move was welcomed by landowners in the northern part of the precinct, but some said the delay had put redevelopment at risk.

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Stephen Collins, who owns most of the block bordered by Oxford Tce and Colombo St, said his redevelopment plans may no longer be viable.

"We'd been told by a number of senior [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] officials that the designation would be lifted but for some reason nobody wanted to make the formal announcement," he said.

Time had been wasted, prices had gone up and there were other central-city developments to compete with, Collins said.

"We had worked on a whole-block development concept with hotels, office space and high-end apartment blocks and now we have to look at it again and see if it's even viable anymore," he said.

"If it doesn't work the reason will be because of the inability of the powers that be to make that commitment."

- Fairfax Media

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