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The Press-News column July 15

Christchurch Town Hall on Shaky Ground.

It is a carbuncle of Costa Concordia proportions.  Run aground on Kilmore Island and cut adrift from the emerging new city centre, the previous council’s decision to fully restore  the Christchurch Town Hall now appears to be on increasingly shaky sand. I was amused to read Warren and Mahoney principal, Richard McGowan, waxing lyrical about this “gutsy building”, which speaks of the “Southern Alps”. Really?  Unlike the profound public angst over destroying Christ Church Cathedral, our city’s enduring and emblematic symbol, public passion for the fate of the Town Hall barely flickers, in comparison.  Yes, we all have honeyed memories of special occasions in the Town Hall Auditorium and we are grateful for its forty years of civic service. But as opposed to reinstating the building, people seem more concerned about reinstating its most photogenic feature, the Ferrier Fountain.  Once again, the projected insurance payout won’t even meet half the projected cost of repairing the Town Hall. Does Christchurch really want to save Kilmore Street’s pebble grey curtain of brutalism, at any price? Previously, the best-case scenario was that the Town Hall could be fully reinstated for $127 million, with insurance proceeds picking up $69 million of the price-tag. The jungle drums now suggest the repair bill has been under-cooked and the projected insurance pay-out over-cooked. The previous council’s parochial crusade to save this badly broken and buckled riverside building, is a bottomless pit we can ill afford. Compounding the fiscal stupidity of the project, is the fact that the make-up of the performing arts precinct is taking shape, and a reinstated Town Hall would be competing against these new venues.  How many theatre and events spaces can Christchurch support? If the real concern is about ensuring Christchurch possesses a top-quality concert hall, perhaps the city council should contribute insurance proceeds into ensuring the 2000 seat auditorium within the convention centre complex, is of concert-hall quality.  After all, the government let the council off lightly, by agreeing to fully-fund the $284 million price-tag for the convention centre.  Late last week, a media interview with the new city council chief executive, Karleen Edwards, revealed her support for the Town Hall project to be fully reconsidered by councillors. It seems inevitable that it will have to be, as part of the council’s new financial strategy, which is scheduled to be unveiled in a fortnight.  The much anticipated document will unveil proposals on how to close the $534 million- and-rising “financial hole”, as determined by the KordaMentha audit.  It’s time for some gutsy proposals, debate and decisions.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press. July 15

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