While the big news with regard to the rebuild has been the scaling back of the Arts Precinct, this is just one part of a wider narrative that sees the grand plan unravelling. Since I wrote my column in the Herald at the weekend, we’ve had the news that Antony Gough’s Terrace Project is taking a wee break, that the Arts Precinct is being scaled back, and that the CCDU is paring back it’s land acquisition. These stories illustrate the point that I made on Sunday; that the rebuild is happening outside of CERA’s control, and that the Blueprint hasn’t worked in the way it was meant to.
The Arts Precinct announcement has been a long time coming. The original plan depended on the Town Hall complex being knocked down, so that the money from it’s insurance payout could be use for this new precinct. Once the council had resolved to restore the Town Hall – which was in August of las year – the rest of the project was always going to have to be scaled back. It is just a shame that CERA’s thinking wasn’t made public earlier, as it could have helped inform the debate around the Majestic Theatre. A restored Majestic could have* brought a beautiful building with a strong cultural history back into the discussion about the wider arts community’s needs. Instead, the demolition proceeds regardless.
There was an interesting comment in the NBR piece on the precinct:
However, the arts precinct has other hurdles to surmount – the Court Theatre, Symphony Orchestra and the Music Centre are pivotal tenants and they have indicated they cannot afford high rentals required in new buildings.
I’m not sure where this leaves the project. If the three key tenants of the project have indicated that they can’t afford the rent for a new building, then what is the plan? If we (the council / the government / both) are going to have to subsidise the rent for these tenants, isn’t that a discussion we should be having? It may be that the arts fall victim to Brownlee’s land-grab, which has pushed the land prices in the central city to a point where they can’t afford to be based in it.
At this point – almost two years after the plan was released – I think it would be a good idea for the involved parties – particularly the CCDU and the cash-strapped Council – to have a bit of a stocktake of where the Blueprint has got us. Best-practice planning means that things aren’t set in stone; strong leadership means making the tough calls about changing direction, rather than just ploughing on regardless. It is not too late to reconsider some of the anchor projects in the plan.
*The Majestic could still be saved, if they ordered an immediate halt to the demo. But they won’t