Christchurch Town Hall $127.5m restoration approved

Work on restoring Christchurch's iconic Town Hall could begin within weeks now the city council has given the final go ahead to the $127.5 million project.

In what has been labelled a pivotal moment in Christchurch's recovery, councillors on Thursday voted 12-1 in favour of fully restoring the 1972 heritage-listed building, which has been closed since it was damaged in the earthquakes.

Christchurch's Town Hall will be fully restored at a cost of $127.5 million.

Christchurch's Town Hall will be fully restored at a cost of $127.5 million.

The original designers of the Christchurch Town Hall, architectural experts and music groups had all called on the council to restore the modernist building. A strategic and economic business case prepared for the council by accounting firm Deloitte had also backed full restoration.

The council has already obtained resource consent to repair the Town Hall. Once it has a building consent, work will be able to start on site. The restoration is expected to take three years.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said she could not support knocking down a heritage building when it was repairable. 

Deputy mayor Vicki Buck said financially the restoration of the Town Hall stood up and she wanted it fixed as soon as possible.

"It would be so lovely having the city's living room functioning. This has a sense of our place. The Town Hall is associated with Christchurch and it incredibly important part of the history of Christchurch," said Buck.

Cr Andrew Turner said fully repairing the Town Hall would send a signal of real confidence in the recovery of the performing arts sector and the city overall.

"This will turn out to be pivotal moment in the recovery of this city," Turner said.

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Cr Jamie Gough ,who was the only councillor to vote against fully restoring the Town Hall, said the case for it looked robust but given his past experience in the construction industry he was worried the costs would escalate, especially as they related to asbestos removal and ground works.

"Fundamentally I cannot support putting ratepayer money into something I know in my heart of hearts I would not be prepared to put my own money into," Gough said. The Town Hall was a "fantastic facility" and he desperately wanted it to work, but his "gut" was telling him not to support the repair.

Cr Glenn Livingstone said a full restoration of the Town Hall made sense from a financial, social, cultural and heritage perspective.

"I think by going down this path of repair and restoration we will help repair and restore our people as well," he said.

Cr Phil Clearwater said a city the size of Christchurch needed a town hall as its civic heart and he totally supported restoring it. 

Cr Ali Jones said she did not have a particularly emotional attachment to the Town Hall and had originally been against spending $127.5m on it but she now believed it was the best option.

Cr Yani Johanson said the Town Hall was one of the anchor projects the council had control of and it needed to show leadership.

"It's the most important secular-built landmark in Christchurch and that's a pretty strong reason to keep it."

Sir Miles Warren, one of the original architects of the Town Hall, said he was absolutely delighted by the council's decision. 

Architectural historian Jessica Halliday was overjoyed.

"It was really great to hear a solid and thorough debate and to see the council pass this with such confidence and conviction," she said. 

The council had the Town Hall insured for a replacement value of $68.9m. It has already spent $7m on the building, stripping it out and ensuring it does not deteriorate further.

Councillors were advised that should the council chose to do nothing with the building or to build a new town hall, it would only receive an insurance pay-out of $32m. If it chose to repair only the auditorium and the foyer, it would be entitled to a $53m payout. If it chose to repair only the auditorium, foyer and James Hay Theatre it would be eligible for $62m.

The only way it could get the full payout of $68.9 was if it restored the building fully.

Commenting on risks associated with restoring a building so close to a river, council development director Peter Vause said the condition of the ground beneath the Town Hall had been extensively studied and agreement had been reached on the best way to remediate it. The costs of that work had been factored into the tenders received and the council was negotiating a contract with the winning tenderer that would mean they took on the risk.

The Press columnist and city commentator Mike Yardley, who was previously against the Town Hall's restoration, said he believed the council had made the right decision.

"My long standing concern was what lurks beneath the ground, but I was pleasantly surprised by the council staff presentation. They addressed every issue."

He said the critical point for him was hearing the winning tenderer would be carrying the risk.

 - Stuff


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