Tower in doubt for opening

Old Government Building
Old Government Building

The Heritage Christchurch Hotel in Cathedral Square is looking at a March reopening of its Old Government Building (OGB) site, 100 years after the building was erected.

But the future of its main tower block behind the OGB remains undecided, with talks continuing between the owner and insurers.

The OGB section of the building will provide about 50 extra rooms to the starved Christchurch accommodation sector.

Hotel general manager Gary Jarvis said March was the work-to date, with about 60 workers doing repairs at the century-old building each day.

The opening date had yet to be decided, with a significant amount of repairs still to be done.

Some brickwork was being replaced, but much of the repair work was superficial and involved fixing plasterboard cracks.

The brickwork repairs, which included repointing and grouting, involved employing stonemasons, including some from a single family.

The hotel would eventually open in a similar format to that before the earthquakes, with the Font bar and cafe area, Maddison's Restaurant and a conferencing venue in the cellar or underground level of the building.

The repair of the building would cost millions of dollars, covered by insurance. Its reopening would return a four star-plus accommodation option to the city.

With the recent opening of the Ibis hotel in Hereford St, Christchurch now has about 985 hotel beds, compared with 3710 before the quakes.

Also expected to open before next winter are the Novotel (with 130 rooms), the Latimer (145 rooms) and the Rendezvous (170 rooms).

The newer tower part of the Heritage hotel, whose future is still undecided, has 135 rooms. Repairs on the next-door Millennium hotel have also started.

Jarvis said despite some movement, the 100-year-old building had survived relatively well, with features such as a large main staircase and a stained-glass window behind that intact.

The largely brick building had survived in part because of a significant restoration project about 1995 which replaced some of the top ramparts of the design with lighter material that had been less affected by the earthquakes.

That design was part of the reason for the building being nominated for the Canterbury heritage awards.

"Because of all the earthquake work done in 1995-96 when it was converted, it's served very well. It's in absolutely fabulous condition," Jarvis said.

"It's taking a while [to fix] because it is such an old building in terms of the stonemasons that need to work on it. It's quite precise, not like a modern building. It's a heritage category 1 [building] in some places."

The hotel had been nominated for a seismic award, given to owners who had strengthened buildings allowing them to survive the quakes, or to those who were strengthening buildings subsequent to the quakes.

The Press