Wellington Scoop

Rex is right about the Town Hall

Rex is right about the Town Hall.

In a letter to the DomPost this week, former city councillor Rex Nicholls wrote:

Wellington Town Hall, a “yellow stickered” building, has now been closed to the public for over two and a half years. Buildings with that notice are under 34% of current code for earthquake resilience, but owners have 10-15 years to strengthen them.

The Town Hall was closed only because it was planned to start strengthening it immediately. The organ, art works, and soft furnishings, were removed. Then the huge cost of strengthening was realised so nothing has happened since.

More recently both the Opera House and St James Theatre have been yellow stickered. But they remain open and continue to offer a great service for public events and shows. The Town Hall must be re-opened and used until the proposed Convention Centre opens. It was a critical part of Wellington’s convention business and our economy suffers because of its closure. The cost of its re-opening would be paid off quickly in rental.

None of these buildings suffered in last year’s shakes, and each has known bigger earthquakes in its long life. The chances of a monstrous quake are tiny. This is a risk I think the city should – in fact must – take.

Rex Nicholls’ letter is a reminder that an acceptable timetable for strengthening and reopening the Town Hall seems to have been lost in the murky depths of the city council’s “great ideas.” It seems to have been made dependent on income from a raft of other projects including leasing the Municipal Building (if anyone wants it) and erecting new buildings on Jack Ilott Green and the Michael Fowler Car Park.

But such dependence is not acceptable for one of the city’s most iconic buildings. (Acknowledging that “iconic” is grossly over-used these days, but it is absolutely correct in relation to the Town Hall.)

The council needs to set a realistic timetable to starting work, and completing it, on strengthening the Town Hall.

There’s only one aspect of Rex Nicholls’ letter which is unrealistic. He writes of the Town Hall’s value for conventions. This may indeed be a part of its value. But its greatest importance is as a music performance venue. Something that was acknowledged by Sir Peter Jackson after the NZSO used the Town Hall for recording the score for the third Hobbit film. “It’s a world-class auditorium … that must be preserved for future generations,” said Sir Peter.

City councillors should be acting on Sir Peter’s statement, and getting decisive on strengthening the Wellington Town Hall so that a realistic reopening date can be set.