OPINION: The news that SOL Square, the popular bar precinct south of Lichfield St, may be able to open some time within the next year will lift the spirits of many in Christchurch.
It is premature to celebrate just yet - a way has to be found through complications involving a receivership - but the reopening of one of the central city's prime night-time gathering points is something that has been craved by many, particularly young people, since the February 2011 earthquake shut the area down.
Suburban bars have gone some way towards filling the gap, but the absence of a central focus for entertainment such as SOL Square and the Strip has, according to surveys, been sorely missed.
Although by the time it closed, SOL Square had become a solid fixture in Christchurch's entertainment scene, it was in fact a relative newcomer. The germ of it began with a Christchurch City Council plan in 1998 to develop lanes in the area between Lichfield, Tuam, St Asaph and High streets, but it really got off the ground when David Henderson began acquiring and developing properties from 2000 onwards.
Henderson is a figure with, to say the least, a chequered history in property enterprises in Christchurch and elsewhere but his entrepreneurship in this area deserves to be recognised.
While the area was popular with patrons, some of the bars were not so successful financially and went into receivership before the earthquakes. In addition, not long before the first earthquake of September 2010, the Henderson company that owned the land was also placed in receivership.
That receivership is now complicating and delaying the plans of two other Christchurch businessmen to redevelop the area. Max Bremner, who acquired half a dozen of the bars out of receivership in 2009, and Richard Peebles, a significant owner of property in the inner-city red zone, want to purchase the land in order to go ahead with their redevelopment plans.
They are being delayed, they say, by the long-drawn-out process of dealing with the BNZ, which placed the Henderson company in receivership, and the receiver, BDO Christchurch.
Receiverships can, even at the best of times, be problematic, but it would be deeply regrettable if an enterprise whose promoters are convinced can be up and running within only six to eight months were to be kiboshed by commercial lethargy.
Ready-to-start undertakings are extremely thin on the ground in central Christchurch. Most of the buildings in other popular bar areas, such as Poplar Lane and the Strip in Oxford Tce, for instance, have been demolished. It must be hoped that everyone involved in this proposal can work with as much energy as possible to allow it to get under way without unnecessary delay.
Even with those difficulties out of the way, the area at the moment is still behind a cordon in the inner-city red zone. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has been reducing the cordon gradually and has promised that it will be gone by the middle of the year. If that is true, it will be heartily welcomed. It has to be believed that the reasons for the cordon were compelling, but progress towards its removal does seem to be taking much longer than anyone had expected.
In areas, like Victoria St, just outside the cordon, plans and projects for redevelopment are proceeding vigorously. Few will believe that rebuilding is properly going until the same can be said of the central business district.
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