Plans put arts precinct in doubt

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 22/04/2014

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The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra has developed plans for a suburban concert hall, in a move that could cast doubt on the central city performing arts precinct.

A Government investigation reveals the orchestra, which would be a major precinct tenant, is considering converting an aircraft hangar in Hornby into a permanent facility.

The report, prepared for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, warns that two other potential tenants for the precinct have concerns over the development of the flagship recovery project.

The Court Theatre wants more clarity on how much any new facility would cost to operate, while the Music Centre "could consider other options outside" the precinct if there are more delays, according to the report.

The Christchurch City Council is to build and fund the precinct, while the Crown oversees land acquisition.

The council's commitment to spend $127.5 million restoring the Town Hall leaves just $30.5m to build a 300-seat concert hall for the Music Centre of Christchurch, a new Court Theatre and an administration, rehearsal and storage facility for the CSO.

The Music Centre has about $12.5m to contribute to its share of the development on the precinct site, bounded by Gloucester, Colombo, Armagh and New Regent streets.

The orchestra has considered creating a 1200-seat concert facility in an aircraft hangar at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in partnership with Ngai Tahu, according to the Government report.

The orchestra, which already performs at the museum, would develop a "fit for purpose" facility, with rehearsal and administration space.

The report says the Hornby proposal has a $2m-3m funding shortfall, with potential funders concerned about the orchestra not returning to the city centre.

Orchestra board chair Therese Arseneau did not return calls for comment yesterday, while deputy chair Pauline Scanlan declined to comment and referred calls to Arseneau.

The report, which assessed Christchurch venues, calls for the Court Theatre and orchestra to be "actively re-engaged" in the project. "Concerns about how their needs will be accommodated in the precinct need to be addressed to enable both companies to find a viable alternative to current suburban locations."

The report warns that the precinct could be jeopardised if the Court Theatre is not involved.

"Given the obvious success of the company's current business at The Shed, the company is under no immediate pressure to move," the report says.

"This poses a significant risk to the viability of the precinct."

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Court Theatre chief executive Philip Aldridge said it was only considering the performing arts precinct for a future venue.

"There are major issues over funding of all these anchor projects so we are looking for clarity from government and council," he said.

"There is no point moving in and not being able to operate because we don't have the budget to operate in a more expensive facility. That is a crucial question that has been missing from this process. We don't know that these things are sustainable."

He expected more information from council in the next few months.

Music Centre of Christchurch chairman Steve Jones said it had no alternative plans to the performing arts precinct, but was frustrated.

"It is dragging on beyond what anyone thought," he said.

"Is this ever going to happen? We have architectural plans for a building [on that site] that are sitting there waiting."

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the precinct project was progressing well.

- The Press

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