Work could start soon on restoring the Christchurch Town Hall

Christchurch Town Hall looks set to be retained in a $127.5 million restoration.
David Walker

Christchurch Town Hall looks set to be retained in a $127.5 million restoration.

Work to fully restore Christchurch's Town Hall could begin this month after an independent business case backed a $127.5 million repair.

Christchurch City councillors will be asked on Thursday to confirm the council's August 2013 decision to fully repair and restore the 1972 heritage-listed building, which has been closed since it was damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The council has already called for tenders for the development and, depending on the decision, is expected to award the construction contract in the public excluded part of the meeting.

It committed the $127.5m before the extent of its financial difficulties was known and before any detailed analysis on the economic viability of the repairs. There had also been some concern the cost of full restoration would be higher than the $127.5m initially budgeted.

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The tenders received for the project had provided the "desired confidence and cost certainty" the Town Hall could be restored within the $127.5m budget, a staff report said.

The cost would be met by an estimated $68.9m insurance payout and the council would fund the remaining amount itself.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was unavailable for comment but had earlier said it was difficult to justify spending so much money on the Town Hall, particularly given the precarious state of the council's finances. He wanted the council to walk away from the building.

A strategic and economic case for the Christchurch Town Hall, written by accounting firm Deloitte, considered a number of options including building a new 1500-seat auditorium and 600-seat theatre on a new site ($193.5m), repairing the existing Town Hall auditorium and foyer ($91m), repairing the auditorium, foyer and James Hay Theatre ($109m), just demolishing the existing building ($12m), and fully restoring the building ($127.5m). 

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After taking into account various factors including cost, value for money and what the users needed, Deloitte found restoring the full Town Hall, including redeveloping the James Hay Theatre, was the best option.

"A Town Hall facility will contribute to creating a vibrant and diverse community, and at the same time contributing to economic growth," the report said.

It said a restored Town Hall would create new jobs, generate household income, attract and retain residents and support the tourism sector.

"An estimated 5 to 10 per cent of visitors to the Town Hall prior to the earthquakes were from out-of-town and spent an average $400 per night."

The report also said a big portion of the benefits associated with the Town Hall development could not be quantified in monetary value because the social and cultural benefits were also significant.

The facility's reopening would provide momentum for the remainder of the performing arts precinct, but development of the precinct would be delayed if there was no firm commitment from the council about the Town Hall's future, it said.

The plan was to restore the auditorium, entrance foyer, James Hay Theatre and the Limes Room and to rebuild Boaters and the Cambridge Room.

The James Hay Theatre, criticised by the performing arts community, could be reconfigured to accommodate a 500-600 seat venue for contemporary music and another "mid-size" auditorium for classical music.

Christchurch freelance conductor and composer Luke Di Somma said the Town Hall and James Hay Theatre had some major issues in terms of functionality and hoped the performing arts community would be consulted to make sure these issues were not repeated in the new repaired facility.

"If the organisations can't make them [the venues] work, the people will not come and then there'll be less activity," he said.

The Deloitte report recognised the need to make sure the facility was suitable for its users and recommended consultation with key users.

Christchurch architectural historian Jessica Halliday said she was delighted with the report's recommendations.

The Town Hall was not only a heritage building with acclaimed acoustics but it also held social and culture value for many Cantabrians, she said.

 - Stuff

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