Hall to pay: Re­pair bill bal­loons to $90m

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - COLLETTE DEVLIN

The deal is fi­nally done and Welling­ton Town Hall looks set to re­open in June 2021 – but its restora­tion is now go­ing to cost ratepay­ers an ex­tra $30 mil­lion.

Welling­ton City Coun­cil plans to spend about $90m strength­en­ing the 113-year-old venue – which was de­clared earth­quake-prone in 2009 – to bring it up to 100 per cent of build­ing code through base iso­la­tion.

The town hall, con­sid­ered to have some of the best acous­tics in the world, was shut in Novem­ber 2013 for strength­en­ing. But that work halted three months later when the project’s cost bal­looned from $43m to $60m.

As well as mak­ing the town hall Welling­ton’s seat of lo­cal gov­ern­ment again, this lat­est plan will see the venue be­come a mu­sic hub in con­junc­tion with Victoria Univer­sity and the New Zealand Sym­phony Or­ches­tra (NZSO).

How­ever, the coun­cil’s new course of ac­tion has raised ques­tions about whether Welling­ton ratepay­ers are get­ting value for money, three years on.

Welling­ton Mayor Justin Lester said the in­creased costs to re­store the cat­e­gory one her­itage-listed build­ing re­flected a higher con­tin­gency for the project, a buoy­ant con­struc­tion mar­ket and con­tin­ued seis­mic un­cer­tainty af­ter the Novem­ber 14 earth­quake.

‘‘It’s been clear for a while that the pre­vi­ous plan wasn’t go­ing to be enough to see this build­ing re­stored.

‘‘It’s not go­ing to be­come cheaper in the fu­ture and build­ing a re­place­ment venue would be much more ex­pen­sive and lack the tra­di­tion, her­itage and pres­tige of the town hall.’’

Lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions with Victoria Univer­sity and NZSO were the main rea­son it had taken so long to get an al­ter­na­tive plan in place, he said.

The two ten­ants will spend about $174m fit­ting out the mu­sic hub. The coun­cil will also re­ceive $1m an­nu­ally over 25 years to cover fu­ture costs.

‘‘The im­pact of this project has been fac­tored into this year’s An­nual Plan, and this year’s por­tion can be met within the 3.3 per cent av­er­age pro­posed rate in­crease.’’

The to­tal cost will be spread over the next 50 to 100 years to min­imise the im­pact on rates.

A plan for the hall’s earth­quake strength­en­ing and de­sign work will be pre­sented to the coun­cil next week be­fore go­ing out for pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

Deputy mayor Paul Ea­gle said pre­vi­ous con­sul­ta­tion with the pub­lic had shown Welling­to­ni­ans loved the build­ing and wanted to see it open again.

‘‘The town hall be­ing closed has left a huge hole in the per­for­mance space in our city, and I’m ex­cited we have the op­por­tu­nity to re­store it.’’

An NZSO spokesman said the hub and a re­stored town hall would en­able the or­ches­tra to con­tinue to per­form and record to the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard.

Prop­erty de­vel­oper Ian Cas­sels, who la­belled the town hall a ‘‘white ele­phant’’ back when the coun­cil pro­posed spend­ing only $43m on the site, said he still had con­cerns about the project.

‘‘It’s re­mark­able. It’s not just the $90m build­ing, it’s the $20m worth of land un­der it. Is this re­ally the best thing to do on be­half of the ratepayer? I’m not so sure.’’

He sug­gested a bet­ter use of the site could in­clude build­ing a ho­tel, which would rake in more money than the rent for the mu­sic hub.

Cas­sels also ques­tioned whether the in­come from planned ac­tiv­i­ties would pro­vide a rent suit­able for a $110m in­vest­ment.

‘‘Usu­ally a $90m build­ing would be fan­tas­tic but this isn’t ex­actly any­thing spe­cial. It’s been strength­ened four times al­ready.’’

New Zealand Fes­ti­val ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Meg Wil­liams said while it was a chal­lenge for the arts fes­ti­val to have a reg­u­lar venue out of ac­tion, its or­gan­is­ers sup­ported the coun­cil’s com­mit­ment to restor­ing and re­fur­bish­ing the build­ing.

An artist’s im­pres­sion of how the re­stored Welling­ton Town Hall might look. Mayor Justin Lester Welling­ton’s Town Hall on Wakefield St looks set to re­open in June 2021 af­ter $90 mil­lion is spent strength­en­ing the site.

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