Reality check on Christchurch town hall cost

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 05:00 10/07/2014

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Decision makers need to be "smart not sentimental" over the fate of the Christchurch Town Hall, a member of the city's arts community says.

The city council was supposed to have started seeking expressions of interest from companies keen to be involved in the hall's $127.5 million restoration project in May.

Instead, it has put that process on hold due to its uncertain financial position.

The town hall was insured for $69.1m, but the cost of repairing it has been calculated at $127.5m.

The previous council committed to spending that money, but an independent audit of the council's finances has since revealed it faces a cost over-run of $534m.

Christchurch freelance conductor and composer Luke Di Somma said it was a good move to "push pause" on the town hall, because the previous council was "short-sighted" in its decision-making.

The James Hay Theatre was "not fit for purpose" and "now that we have a refurbished Isaac Theatre Royal . . . they [would be] doing the same job", he said.

"Some of the arts community are fully supportive of restoration. Some are not. It is not cut and dried. I think to just push pause and get the full financial picture is smart," Di Somma said.

"[The town hall] is certainly a place with a significant history and great sentimental value, but we are trying to build a city that works. We need to make a smart call, not a sentimental one."

On Monday, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the council should ditch the town hall entirely because it would be competing against the new performing arts precinct.

The precinct would have ample theatre space across several venues and the new convention centre, he said.

University of Canterbury Associate Professor of Art History Dr Ian Lochhead said an auditorium in the convention centre was not an adequate replacement for the town hall.

Based on international comparisons, building a new quality concert auditorium would cost "far in excess" of the town hall repair cost, Lochhead said.

The $127m price tag included "significant betterment projects" across the complex, he said.

The James Hay Theatre and Limes Room could be "mothballed" and revisited later.

"The concert hall is what we most desperately need."

Architectural historian Jessica Halliday said that if the council was reviewing the town hall repair because of its financial position, she hoped it would do the same for other anchor projects to "put it in context".

"It is not the only expensive project on their books. The [new covered] stadium is a huge cost," she said.

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"We already know [the town hall] is a high-quality building that matters to us socially and culturally. There are not many buildings of international significance in New Zealand."

Former Christchurch mayor Sir Bob Parker said the council should go ahead with its earlier plan to seek expressions of interest because "it is not going to get any cheaper".

"I think we have just got to get stuck in [and] find out who is interested," Parker said.

- The Press

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