How far have we come since Sept 2010?

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2013

Smoother roads, new parks, no more demolition, lots of construction work, homes repaired, pockets of normality, but plenty of empty land in the city centre.

Welcome to Christchurch in February 2016.

Today marks the passing of 1000 days since the September 2010 earthquake.

But what will the next 1000 days hold and how will our city look at the end of it?

By consulting developers, landowners, local leaders and recovery plans it is possible to form a picture of how Christchurch might look 1000 days from now on February 25, 2016.

But, as anyone who has lived through this turbulent period in Christchurch history knows, deadlines are always flexible in a city where everything can turn to silt in an instant.

Read the following with that caveat in mind. Christchurch will pass some major recovery landmarks in 2016.

There will be fewer road cones by the end of the year as the repair of pipes and streets draws to a close, an official earthquake memorial is set to be officially opened on the fifth anniversary of the February 2011 quake and local democracy could be restored as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority reaches the end of its five year mandate.

But how will the city feel in February 2016?

For one thing, there should be a lot of new additions.

The Christchurch Art Gallery on Montreal St, the new central library on Gloucester St, the Metro Sports facility on Antigua St, a new bus interchange on Tuam St and a fully restored Theatre Royal will all be open and fully operational again.

Small pockets of the city will feel whole again as offices, restaurants and bars create clusters of normality. Trailblazer developments in the city centre, which are set for completion next year, will be well established by early 2016.

Countrywide Properties director Richard Diver said Victoria St will feel relatively normal by 2016. Diver is developing about four hectares of office space on Victoria St across ten new buildings.

The majority of his work will be complete by 2015.

''Victoria St will be the only part of town that will be 100 per cent complete by that time,'' he said.

''A fairly good chunk of the city centre will be empty. There will be a few projects complete in the city centre, but there will still be a lot of bare land.''

Shepperd and Rout principal architect Jasper van der Lingen said the new Stranges Building on the corner of High, Manchester and Lichfield Sts will be another point of activity. The building is set for completion in early 2014, with bars, restaurants and two floors of office space already leased.

''It will be quite a buzzy place with C1 Coffee, EPIC and Alice in Videoland so close. That little part of Christchurch will be the first to come alive. Little pieces of the city will start to flower,'' he said.

But the city centre will still have many empty sites.

Christchurch Central Development Unit director Warwick Isaacs, the man in charge of implementing the government's recovery plan, said it would be impossible to rebuild every site in just 1000 days.

''There will still be some gaps. In a physical sense, it won't be possible to have all the gaps filled.''

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker hopes many empty sites will be put to good use.

''If there are still gaps at that point, they are likely to be landscaped or have temporary Gap Filler projects on them. The creativity we have seen in the transitional city will become part of the new city.''

Demolition in the city centre will have given way to new construction. Isaacs estimates it could take another eight or nine months from now to complete demolition in the city.

The high-rise Forsyth Barr building on Armagh St could take longer as its future is uncertain and demolition would take a year.Isaacs said there will be a ''huge amount of construction'' underway.

There should be a string of major construction sites across the city centre as anchor projects identified in the recovery plan start to take shape.

The convention centre straddling Gloucester St, the new stadium off Madras St, the retail precinct around City Mall and the performing arts precinct on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo St should all be under construction.

But Isaacs stressed that some of the anchor projects are still dependent on ongoing cost sharing talks between Cera and council.

Parker said construction will have to accelerate across the city.

''It almost feels like it is not going anywhere at this point. There is a lot of demolition and a small amount of rebuilding. That will have to ramp up to hit the targets we've got.''

Isaacs said new city centre parks completed over the next two years will provide ''respite from construction work''.

The Avon River Park will stretch along 3.2km of riverbank from Christchurch Hospital in the west to Fitzgerald Avenue in the east.

The new park is set for completion by the end of 2015 with work starting later this year. A pilot stretch of the park, along one block near the hospital, is already under construction.

Isaacs said the park was ''absolutely fundamental'' to stimulating private development in the city centre.

''We believe that the private sector will capitalise on that area. There is no question about that.''

Isaacs cited the High Line park in Manhattan, where US$150 million of investment in a new public space on top of a former elevated railway line has sparked US$5 billion of private investment and lifted local land values.

Christchurch landowner Antony Gough, who is building new office and hospitality space on the Avon River near City Mall, said the river could be a catalyst for development.

''People want to be around the river. A lot of the development will happen on either side of the river.''

The eastern frame will be a mix of open parkland and residential development stretching from Madras St in the east to Manchester St in the west and the river in the south to St Asaph St in the north.

The parkland should be complete by the end of next year,  with some residential development possibly complete by February 2016.

The aim is to sell land packages to developers who will build about 600 apartments in the eastern frame, Isaacs said.

Parker believes apartments rather than offices will drive regeneration in the city centre.

New office developments in Addington and on Victoria St have soaked up commercial demand, with other major tenants relocating to the suburbs.

''Because of the level of investment in places like Addington, which have seen a lot of office growth, some of the commercial energy we expected in the city centre has been thin on the ground.

''The city will not be filled with commercial space. Residential development might be a much safer bet for speculation and investment then some of the commercial buildings.''

A demonstration residential project near Latimer Square will be complete by early next year with the aim of showing how well designed, high density housing might look in central Christchurch.

The city's suburbs will have also undergone radical change by February 2016.

The residential red zone is set to be cleared and demolished by April 2014 and the Earthquake Commission is aiming to complete all repairs and settlements by the end of 2015.

That means Christchurch could be a city where the residential red zone has been cleared and everyone has had their homes repaired. This means many homeowners will hopefully be able to move on from the earthquake and continue with their lives.

Not only will the eastern suburbs be free from the blight of deserted and crumbling homes, but the roads should be smoother and the ubiquitous orange road cone could be gone.

The massive task of repairing Christchurch's pipes and roads is set for completion at the end of 2016, but by February of that year most of the repair work in the eastern suburbs will be complete.

Arterial roads and bridges will also have been repaired. SCIRT general manager Duncan Gibb said most repair work will have migrated to the western suburbs by 2016.

Work will also continue on damaged retaining walls in the Port Hills.

''There will still be an impact on traffic network, but it will be in different areas. Driving out to Sumner on those main roads will be well and truly nailed,'' he said.

So, Christchurch in February 2016 will be a different, but still recognisable city.

Two thousand days from the start of a hard period in Christchurch history, the city may be starting to turn the corner.

The city centre could hopefully have reached a tipping point where tentative recovery can grow into a sense of new confidence.

Gough is bullish about the future of the city centre.

''There is nervousness at the moment, but there will be a lot more confidence in the future.''

- The Press

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