$45.8m Cromwell events centre all go after council decision

by Kim Bowden - Mar 01, 2024

The long awaited demolition of the Cromwell Memorial Hall and the build of its ambitious replacement has been approved by the Central Otago District Council.

The overall cost to build the new facility is budgeted at $45.8 million, with the council saying in a statement this morning it is the "most significant and ambitious capital project ever undertaken" on behalf of ratepayers in the district.

A decision earlier this month by members of the Cromwell Community Board to move forward with the project was signed off by district councillors during a public excluded discussion during Wednesday's council meeting.

The end of an era: Finally, the Cromwell Memorial Hall will be demolished after a decision on its replacement this week by the Central Otago District Council.

Naylor Love has been appointed builders, joining Christchurch architects Jasmax on the project.

The price tag has creeped up, now close to $3 million more than the most recent figure made public - $43 million - and $14.3 million more than the $31.5 million originally set aside for the project in the council's last Long Term Plan.

Another key town project, the flagged upgrade of the central mall, also assigned money in that Long Term Plan, will now need to be re-consulted on.

Councillors were told during a presentation preceding Wednesday's decision that costs to build anything have risen sharply in recent times, and this project is not immune to those market forces.

They were warned any further delays would run the risk of the project becoming even more expensive and unlikely to ever be realised. 

The budget shortfall for the project will be funded through a mix of endowment land sales, external grants and debt funding, with councillors clear that they expect debt to be paid off within five years through further land sales.

Cromwell has a swathe of endowment land to the south of the town, rezoned for industrial use late last year.

The community hall project, in one form or another, is decades in the making, with a history of false starts, eleventh hour pivots, and community agitation to 'get on with it'.

The existing condemned memorial hall, deemed not structural sound enough to survive a decent earthquake, has sat unused since 2022, retired at 63 years old, sitting on a prime plot of land on a terrace overlooking the Kawarau Arm of Lake Dunstan on Melmore Terrace.

The council says in 2019, during the creation of the Cromwell Masterplan, the hall's replacement was identified as a key catalyst project for the future of the town, and in more recent years has garnered overwhelming community support.    

A project team has been working closely with an advisory group, comprised of Cromwell Community Board members as well as representatives of local groups including the RSA and the Fine Thyme Theatre Company, to develop a plan for the building, which will include an auditorium, a cafe, a cinema, meeting rooms and other multi-use public spaces.    

An auditorium is including in plans for the new $48.5 million Cromwell events centre.

In this morning's statement, Cromwell Community Board chair Anna Harrison calls the event centre a "legacy" project.

“We already know Cromwell and Central Otago is a desirable place for visitors and residents alike. To be progressing a facility that will become an icon for both the community and visitors to enjoy, as well as being a key hub for the sharing of knowledge and culture through conferences and events, is very exciting.”    

CODC property and facilities manager Garreth Robinson says discussion on the project has been "long, robust and probing" over several years and now they have "landed on advancing to the construction stage of the project".

“As a project group we heard loud and clear the calls from the community to get on with it, and we can all clearly see Cromwell needs such a facility for its rapidly growing population.

“There must be clear process and accountability when you are spending this amount of community money, and the project stakeholder engagement group, Cromwell Community Board and Council, have all challenged the project team with some tough questions at various key stages.

"I’d like to particularly acknowledge the input we’ve had from those involved in the project stakeholder group, which has been critical in assisting us understand the needs of the community and different user groups.”

CODC group manager planning and infrastructure Louise van der Voort says the council has needed to juggle the community's desire to "get on with it" and good financial decision making in a climate of increasing costs and tough economic times.

"Ultimately, we think through this process, a good balance has been struck between using land sales and debt funding to be able to progress. Work will continue to seek out other external methods of funding.

Ms van der Voort says commercial sensitivities have meant the council has not been able to share much on this project with the community in recent times.

"I know this has been a source of frustration for staff, elected members and the wider community, so it is fantastic being able to now openly share where things have got to and how the project will progress; it is another important milestone.

“So, we have a clear directive to push on, and one of the most significant moments comes soon, with saying farewell to the old hall, and its demolition.”

The former Cromwell Memorial Hall will be officially farewelled in a ceremony that the entire community will be invited along to.

Once demolition of the hall is complete, it is expected its replacement will take about two years to complete. 

The report presented to Council gave a series of hall revenue scenarios, with the ‘low’ or most conservative scenario being used to inform the decision-making process. The project team will continue to work on refining the operating model and exploring different revenue opportunities as the project progresses.  

While releasing the decision today, the council has also made public previously confidential reports on the project, and they are available on the council's website: Released Confidential Reports - 2021 onwards - Central Otago District Council.

Also, a recording of the discussion at this week's council meeting will be available at: Meeting Recordings - Central Otago District Council.

Keen to know more about the project? Head to: Cromwell Memorial Hall & Events Centre | Let’s Talk Central Otago.

Main image (CODC/Jasmax): Plans for Cromwell's new events centre to replace the town's aged memorial hall.


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