City gets to decide fate of town hall

BROKEN GROUND: The Christchurch Town Hall is badly torn apart and sits on damaged land.
BROKEN GROUND: The Christchurch Town Hall is badly torn apart and sits on damaged land.

The fate of Christchurch's Town Hall will remain in the city's hands.

Decision-making power for the earthquake-damaged landmark's future had been in doubt until yesterday, when the city council took charge of the performing arts precinct in the central-city anchor project funding arrangements.

Ratepayers will contribute $158 million and the Government $8m, mainly for land purchases.

Mayor Bob Parker said the council had been given the "clear option" to make its own call on the town hall.

It has already publicly backed saving the building, while the Government has favoured demolition.

A final decision is expected by August 31.

"Depending on the decisions we make around that - whether we retain all, some or none - we've got another month or so to work on that together with community," Parker said.

The concept for the performing arts precinct had not accounted for the town hall's retention, he said.

"We now know that we can save the Christchurch Town Hall, but we haven't made the final decision in the sense that [there] are some options that we now need to look at.

"In return for us having that option, it means we were also prepared to step into the performing arts precinct."

Last week, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee argued that the town hall should be demolished, but yesterday said it was a decision that "clearly had to be left to the council".

"[The council] has made its feelings known in as strong as possible [a] way."

Parker said the council did not take on the performing arts precinct because of Brownlee's comments.

"In this case it's based on pragmatism and based on the Government's view that the council has made a stand around this particular issue, respects that, respects the wishes of the city of Christchurch and wants the best possible outcome," he said.

Architect Sir Miles Warren who, with Maurice Mahoney, designed the town hall, said it was good news the facility had been "saved from Cera's demolition hands".

"It's probably the best thing we [he and Mahoney] ever did collectively. It's the only building in New Zealand that had an international reputation architecturally and also acoustically."

He described the hall's main auditorium as "the city's living room". "It's the place where we all get together. I do hope the old building can be restored."

The Press