9 Dec 2014

$60m price tag to save Town Hall

8:02 am on 9 December 2014

Wellington's Town Hall is to be saved from demolition but the cost of strengthening the building has soared to $60 million

The heritage-listed building, which is more than 100-years old and earthquake prone, had been at risk of demolition as Wellington City Councillors debated whether it was worth saving.

Wellington Town Hall.

The cost of saving Wellington Town Hall has soared to $60 million. Photo: RNZ

But as part of a new proposal, the council planned to strengthen the Town Hall and turn it into what it called a 'national music hub'.

The cost of earthquake strengthening the building was originally estimated to be about $45 million.

The council also wanted to give the Civic Square precinct a makeover, including strengthening surrounding buildings such as the central library, and estimated that the total bill would be about $96 million.

However, it expected that figure would reduce by about $23 million by selling ground-leases to three public sites near the waterfront.

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown said a focus on music and performance would make the best use of the Town Hall's world-class acoustics.

"I think the main feeling from Wellingtonians will be that they are glad to have the Town Hall, which is a beautiful building inside and out, strengthened. They will be even keener to have lots of musical performance happening," she said.

Ms Wade-Brown said she believed the proposal would not put an undue burden on the ratepayer and the costs should be contained within a planned rates rise of an average 3.9 percent over the next 10 years.

The council would be partnering with Victoria University and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to develop the music hub. The orchestra's chief executive, Christopher Blake, said a focus on music would bring the city centre alive.

"Musicians, residents, students coming and going, and a whole range of cultural energies that I think are absolutely visionary in what can be achieved."

Wellington city councillor, Iona Pannett, whose portfolio includes urban development, supported the proposal and called it a workable compromise. Ms Pannett said spending $60 million on one building was clearly a lot of money but the alternative was worse. She said it was really important Wellington retained its status as the 'cultural capital'.

"We really have to make sure that we continue to invest in our arts and cultural sector...it is a wonderful part of the city and hopefully it is just going to bring thousands more people there which will really bring it to life," she said

However Ms Pannett said one of her reservations about the council's plan to offset some of the costs of the revamp, through several 99-year ground leases, was that the council would essentially be privatising public land.

"If a tenant is going to be in there, we would want to be pretty careful about who they were, they have got to be a good fit with the city but if they are businesses who are really innovative and pro-New Zealand then that could be a good mix."

The council will submit a more detailed proposal in early 2015, which will be subject to public consultation through the 2015-2025 long-term plan.