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Friday, April 8, 2011

Push to get Town Hall, centre open

Push to get Town Hall, centre open

Last updated 05:00 09/04/2011
Reopening the earthquake-damaged Christchurch Town Hall and Convention Centre is critical to the city's economic recovery, the venue manager says.

Both central-city venues, which generate millions of dollars in visitor spending annually, will remain closed until early next year.

City leaders yesterday vowed to repair them.

A preliminary assessment released yesterday confirmed the Kilmore St buildings suffered significant structural damage in the February 22 quake.

The Town Hall was hardest hit in the Limes Room-Boaters wing, which separated about 10 centimetres from the main structure, and the floors of the James Hay Theatre and the auditorium were damaged.

Flooding in the Town Hall basement cut power to the building and hampered assessment work.

The Convention Centre suffered moderate structural damage and extensive damage to floors from liquefaction.

Bryan Pearson, chief executive of Vbase, which runs the venues, said detailed assessments would not be completed until next month.

Reopening the two venues, along with AMI Stadium, was critical to Christchurch's economic recovery, he said.

Vbase venues host 1800 events each year and bring in between $60 million and $100m in visitor spending.

"The many entertainment events the venues host will raise spirits by giving our community something to look forward to in these challenging times," Pearson said.

Mayor Bob Parker said the Town Hall was one of Christchurch's "great architectural icons".

"We need a clear understanding of the scale of work required to preserve this wonderful building. We are determined to ensure the Town Hall continues to be one of the defining features of our city," he said.

The Convention Centre was an important tourist drawcard, Parker said.

"It plays a vital role in attracting business and tourism, and we need to move quickly to make sure Christchurch has a large-scale facility to drive this important business," he said.

Pearson said Vbase had replacement insurance for all venues and operating equipment, as well as comprehensive business-interruption insurance.

Christchurch teacher Shaun Taylor, who was in the Town Hall auditorium when the February quake struck, said he was not surprised, having seen the damage, that repairs would take so long.

He said he had not believed he was going to make it out alive. "It was damn scary. We had to get out or we would have been killed in there."

'Organ anxiety'

The unknown fate of the Christchurch Town Hall's pipe organ has left its guardian feeling "extremely anxious".

Venue manager Vbase has been unable to assess the hall's Rieger organ and may not be able to for several weeks until power to the building is restored.

City organ curator Martin Setchell said he had been waiting for information on the instrument's condition.

"The stress of not knowing is really quite severe," he said. "The trouble when you don't get clear information is that rumours start flying around, and that's worrying too."

The organ's builder, Austrian-based Rieger, had been been working on an enhancement in Christchurch at the time of the February 22 quake.

The organ was "pretty sturdy" and not a single pipe was displaced in the September quake, he said.

"Given Rieger's high-class workmanship, it's likely to have survived as well as any organ could have survived."

Rieger's team had left the city, but would have to return to complete the work and repairs, Setchell said.

Stage one of the Town Hall conservation and refurbishment project was under way at the time of the quake, but work had been suspended. The Christchurch Art Gallery had successfully protected or removed the artworks from the Town Hall, Vbase said.

- The Press

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