Editorial: Signs of CBD revival

Last updated 05:00 29/10/2012

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OPINION: In the gloomiest few months after the February 22 earthquake last year there were many in Christchurch who wondered if the centre of the city could ever be revived as a retail and commercial hub.

The quake had devastated almost every shop and office building leaving only destruction and ruin. Firms and businesses had re-established themselves with what looked like some permanence in the suburbs. Recovery of the city's heart seemed a distant prospect.

Given the crushing extent of the disaster, those doubts were certainly forgivable. Announcements of the last few days, however, have emphatically changed the outlook. Far from shunning the city, developers are competing at least for the opportunity to be part of what has the potential to be a hugely dynamic and exciting series of redevelopment projects.

There is no doubt that the job is a gigantic one and the concepts that have been revealed so far have a long way to go before they become reality but the expressions of interest from such a range of high-powered operators is greatly encouraging for the city's future.

The first sign, of course, that some people were prepared to make the effort to revive the city centre was the creation of the Re:Start pop-up mall, anchored by the existing Ballantynes building. Improvised as it was and far from perfect, it was thought of and brought into being within six months of the February quake to provide some sort of destination for Christchurch shoppers.

Now, at one year old, it has served that purpose surprisingly well and become a small part of Christchurch's earthquake lore and also something of a tourist attraction (albeit temporary).

The more substantial recent announcements have been about concepts for developments within the central-city blueprint for which the Central City Development Unit required expressions of interest by Tuesday.

The blueprint requires that these proposals must cover at least 7500 square metres, or half a city block. Proposals for one block in Oxford Tce illustrates the difficulties that this creates.

There are few areas of the required size within the relevant part of the blueprint that are held by one owner. Three proposals have been made for the Oxford Tce site, which will require dealing with 13 owners.

There has already been talk of some trying to take advantage of the situation and that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority may have to use its powers to provide a resolution. It must be hoped that it does not come to that and that the matter can be sorted out with reasonable, businesslike negotiation.

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That problem will not face the proposal put forward by Richard Ballantyne, Philip Carter and Peter Guthrey in an alliance of three of Christchurch's wealthiest and most influential families. They already own most of the land they wish to develop.

The Ballantynes store, of course, was the first major business to reopen in the central city and has formed an anchor for the Re:Start Mall. The commitment of these families and others with their own resources is a hugely heartening stimulus to the recovery.

The precise shape of the proposals has yet to be seen. Finance may be a hurdle for some of them, at least.

But last week the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the rebuild was officially under way and he could almost "smell the money" being poured into the city. These latest proposals are tangible evidence of that.

- The Press

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