Convention centre might be white elephant

03:29, Oct 26 2014
Christchurch convention centre
ARTIST'S IMPRESSION: Christchurch town planners have been urged not to place too much emphasis on expensive, outdated projects like this proposed convention centre.

Doubts over the location and economic viability of Christchurch's convention centre could result in the project being a "huge disaster", a designer says.

Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs is confident the key anchor project will ignite activity in the city's core and produce huge economic benefits, but urban designer James Lunday believes the centre's central-city location is wrong.

The convention centre precinct will be developed between Worcester and Armagh streets adjacent to the river - a location Lunday fears will block locals and tourists out of two prime city blocks.

The Crown has set aside $284 million for the development of the project and earlier this year the CCDU announced that Carter Group, Ngai Tahu Property and Plenary were the preferred developers.

It will not say what the ownership model of the partnership will be or which areas of the convention centre will be publicly accessible.

The convention centre would end up being a "decorated box", Lunday said.

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"They talk about having active edges so it doesn't feel like dead space but that's just urban design-speak for tarting up something that doesn't work very well."

Conference facilities were not naturally lively places and locals and tourists would not be drawn to it, he said.

"The location is one of the most prime sites in the city. It will house conference delegates who eat their morning tea and lunch inside and then go back to their hotel afterwards.

"During the weekend, when there's no conference on, it will be dead."

CCDU director Warwick Isaacs said the $284m included the design, construction and delivery of the centre as well as the purchase of land for the whole precinct.

The location encouraged activity in "the heart of our city".

"The precinct is about much more than a convention centre.

"We will see developments including hotels and food and beverage outlets and others taking advantage of this prime location."

He would not confirm who would own what and whether the Crown or its development partners would be liable for costs.

Christchurch designer and writer Barnaby Bennett said the CCDU was "making huge financial decisions without transparency".

There needed to be thorough public consultation, he said, and Cantabrians deserved to know who would be liable for costs if the project was a flop.

Antony Gough, who is developing The Terrace, said the convention centre was "absolutely critical" to the city's recovery.

The pre-quake facility was dead when no conventions were on, he said, but the new one would be permanently active because of supporting businesses.

The Press