To demolish or not demolish? - Cromwell's ageing mall question
A growing number of Cromwell business owners and residents are saying the Central Otago District Council’s proposed plan to bowl the town’s library and Council chambers will do little to revitalise the mall and is a waste of ratepayer money.
The ambitious project, which has a $42 million price-tag, is a key proposal in the Council’s Long-Term Plan, currently open for public feedback.
But Council sources are telling Crux the blueprints for development included in the consultation document are not set in concrete.
What’s important in the Long-Term Plan process is that money is tagged for projects for the town, the mall revamp among them, and the details can be nutted out later, sources say.
Gary Anderson, who owns buildings and a business in the mall, says sentiment from other business owners is that something needs to be done to improve the space.
However, demolishing perfectly good buildings, with significant market value, is not the answer, he says.
“There’s money there and it needs to be spent and we need to do it. But should we be spending 80 percent of the budget on pulling down Council buildings and rebuilding them in the hope it will drag people into the mall?
“It just doesn’t make sense. It’s the wrong use of ratepayers’ money.”
In a consultation document, the Council details $12.3 million of the $42 million town centre upgrade is earmarked for a new Council service centre, $11 million for a new library, and $5.5 million for a resource centre.
An additional $13.2 million is needed for landscaping, demolition and project management costs.
Cromwell winemaker James Dicey agrees with Mr Anderson that it’s a significant chunk of ratepayer money to spend on “some more comfortable chairs and some office space”.
If the Council has money to spend, he reckons better bang for buck would come from upping the proposed budget for the new arts, culture and heritage precinct, another key proposal in the Council’s draft Long-Term Plan.
Speaking at a public meeting last night organised by the Cromwell Cultural Centre Trust, Mr Dicey says new Council spaces shouldn’t be a priority, especially when people are increasingly moving online to sort Council matters.
Cromwell architect Jessie Sutherland says the buildings earmarked for demolition in the Councils’ proposal are some of the better ones in the mall and could easily be repurposed for other community facilities in dire need of more space, like the resource centre or the Plunket rooms.
There’s other blocks within the mall where the buildings are awkward, small and hard to adapt, blocking views that could better open up the precinct to the natural landscape and surrounds, she says.
Tinkering with a few buildings on the mall’s periphery will not meet the aspirations for the space expressed by Cromwellians in the Cromwell Masterplan process, she says.
She thinks the answer requires some outside-the-box thinking by Council.
Rather than constructing new buildings, Council could consider being a long-term tenant for a private developer – imagine Council offices on upper floors and new retail outlets or cafes and restaurants at ground level, she says.
“Because that’s where we want to get to at the end of the day – the Council not paying for the mall upgrade. We want private developers to be investing in the mall and then, and only then, will the mall have substantial change.”
Good spaces help create great communities, and unfortunately Cromwell doesn’t have enough of them, she says.
“I just really want Cromwell to be the gem it can be. We’ve been held back by poor quality environments.
“By creating an atmosphere in the middle of the mall, around a good green space, with interesting activities for kids to do, great places for families to hang out, a real meeting place, that’s what’s going to revive the mall.
“A new Council building at the back is not going to do that.”
Geoff Pye runs the Cromwell Today Facebook group and has been posting in recent weeks to engage the page’s 1,400 followers with the Long-Term Plan consultation process.
He says people need to focus on the proposed amounts of money tagged to different projects rather getting caught up in the particulars of the projects themselves.
The concept plans in the Council’s consultation document are just an idea of what could be done, he says.
Another Council source describes it as getting money into the “Cromwell bucket” from the “Council bucket” and that has to be done through the Long-Term Plan process.
Cromwell Community Board chair Anna Harrison agrees the Long-Term Plan process is the community’s vehicle to get funding into the budgets for the next ten years.
“We really need our community to let us know the level of spending that they are comfortable with so that we can get into the detail of the projects we want for the future of our town.”
Some sources who have spoken to Crux are however wary big spend numbers in the Long-Term Plan may seem exorbitant to more cautious ratepayers, and the resulting rates-impact information is an unfair reflection of the potential reality.
Project budgets may not take in land sales, depreciation funds or grants, for example.
Ms Harrison says most people acknowledge the Cromwell mall needs a revamp, but the problem her team has is most of the buildings located there are not owned by the Community Board or Council.
So the proposed plan – pulling down existing Council buildings to build something better and brighter in their place - has identified developments that are within the Board’s control, she says.
“But none of this is set in concrete yet.
“We know we will need business and property owners in the mall to be open to some new thinking about what the possibilities are and we will need to think about the centre of the mall and how to make it into a space that people want to gather.”
Want Council to sit tight on the mall revamp and get on with building a new hall, or reckon they should get on with sorting both projects ASAP? There’s little more than a week left to have a say on the draft Long-Term Plan.
There’s an online feedback form and hard-copy submission forms can also be requested.
Sunday, April 25 the deadline for having a say, and there's the opportunity to be heard at a series of community board and Council meetings to consider feedback scheduled in May.