14 Jun 2013

Wellington Town Hall safe from demolition

11:29 am on 14 June 2013

Wellington city councillors have agreed the capital's town hall will undergo earthquake strengthening and not be knocked down.

The council's new chief executive, Kevin Lavery, asked councillors on Tuesday to reconsider spending $43 million to strengthen the building.

The multimillion-dollar project will bring Wellington Town Hall up to 140% of the building standard.

Mr Lavery and the president of the Property Council, developer Ian Cassells, raised questions this week about the cost, which has risen from an original $32 million.

Mr Cassells said while he doesn't necessarily think the building should be torn down, ratepayers should be given a say and there should be more debate on the issue.

However, all councillors agreed the building was an important historical part of Wellington and should be kept.

They also said it is important for the council's credibility because it is asking private property owners to strengthen their buildings.

Deputy mayor Ian McKinnon said the importance of preserving the 109-year-old building far outweighs the big price tag.

He said the town hall is not only the home of democratic processes in Wellington, but is also a conference and convention centre. As a concert venue, the acoustics in its auditorium are rated as some of the best in the world, he said.

Mr McKinnon said the money will be used to develop conference facilities in and around the building.

Mr Cassels expects the bill to reach $50 million, and with the cost of upgrading buildings like the Opera House yet to be calculated, he says, ratepayers may have to pay more as a result.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has said work on the town hall may ultimately cost more than currently budgeted.

Historic Places Trust delighted

The Historic Places Trust says it is delighted that the heritage-listed building is safe from demolition.

Central region general manager Ann Neill says the category-one structure is the oldest surviving purpose-built civic building in Wellington.

"This is great leadership from council, it's a unanimous agreement which shows how much they recognise this building contributes to our heritage landscape and that making seismic strengthening a priority for our civic building is something that council here in Wellington is leading New Zealand on."

Ms Neill says it is a priority the building is strengthened without interfering with its heritage aspects.

The decision will go to full council for a final vote.