Hastings ratepayers will have to fork out an unexpected $5.5 million to finish the renovation of an iconic downtown building.
The historic Municipal Building, constructed in 1916, sits idle and partly renovated on the city’s main street.
It was closed about five years ago for earthquake strengthening and interior redevelopment.
The council wants it to be part of the arts and cultural precinct, featuring the renovated Opera House, and bring it back to its past glory where events like balls and conferences were held.
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The council’s corporate group manager, Bruce Allan, said a business case for the redevelopment, endorsed in August last year, underestimated costs.
More detailed designing and costs since had brought the total to $9.25m.
The council tried to get more external funding but had not been successful in any applications for this stage of the building’s redevelopment.
The entire precinct is budgeted to cost $38m, with nearly $10m in external funding already approved.
The council unanimously agreed today to take up a $5.5m loan to finish the build.
Allan said if the council did not approve the funding, the building might be left unfinished.
“There’s $3.8 million of council funding that’s currently allocated to this project.
“If council decides that there’s no more money to be allocated, we’ll have to make that $3.8 million go as far as we possibly can. What it will possibly mean is that the upstairs will be undeveloped, the laneway won’t be developed and the ground floor will be partially completed … and we would have to continue to try and gather as much external funds as we possibly can to complete it.”
Councillor Wendy Schollum said they needed to take action.
“We have a gaping wound in our CBD right now – that’s an unfinished municipal building. It sits there, it’s ugly and it stops the investment that we’ve had to date within the rest of our arts precinct being fully realised.
“There are benefits to the overall precinct and vitality of our CBD in us investing in this.”
Councillor Ann Redstone said she was “really concerned” about the “blow-out” to start with.
“But now I see it as an investment because we have to finish this … we need to get on with it as fast as possible before prices go up again.”
Councillor Sophie Siers said the $5.5m may not “sit very well with our ratepayers at this time”.
“But I think it’s been clearly articulated that this building can’t possibly be left as it is.”
Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the investment would benefit Hastings residents for 100 years, but was adamant she did not want even more requests for ratepayers’ cash on the build.
“This is the last push, and we don’t want any more papers coming to us with any more funding,” she told staff.
“We want a proper peer review of all those costs and we want to make sure we’re doing this the best way we possibly can for our community, for our ratepayers.”
Chief executive Nigel Bickle assured councillors this should be the last request.
“We did deliver the Opera House on time and on budget … we have a good to high level of confidence that the work that we’ve done and where we’re at in terms of the detailed design is that we won’t be coming back with a number different to the one we’re asking you to make on the decision on today.”
Councillors also agreed to let staff exhaust all available external funding options, but staff said there was no certainty this would be successful.