Prison group to be formed

An announcement that Dunedin's 113-year-old prison is to be sold has attracted the attention of local heritage protectors who are looking to form a group of interested parties.

Southern Heritage Trust founding member Ann Barsby said she had spoken to many people concerned about the prison's fate after an Otago Daily Times article last week.

The Department of Corrections said it was disposing of the building because upgrading and maintaining it to allow it to continue operating would have been a significant investment.

It declined to comment on who the building had been offered to or for what it might be used.

Many agreed with Mrs Barsby's suggestions for the building which included use as a backpackers, boutique hotel, an exhibition space telling the stories of early Dunedin, or as a repository for New Zealand's legal and penal history.

She said a Victorian jail in Oxford, England, had been converted into a boutique hotel and museum, something which could be achieved with the Dunedin prison.

A Dunedin artist had suggested it be used as an exhibition space similar to the Lock Up in Newcastle, Australia, where an old prison was used for artists' residences.

A Tourism Dunedin board member had suggested it be used as a visitors' centre.

An online comment on agreed with this: "[A visitors' centre in the prison] would probably increase the attendance at the Settlers Museum and the railway station, and would remove the glut of tour buses from the Octagon area."

The same person said: "At the risk of sounding snarky, I'd like to suggest the ORC move into this building - it sure would save us ratepayers a bundle."

Another comment said: "I have always wondered what it is like in the prison.

"And it would be great if it was turned into a museum so the public could look inside without committing crime."

An online poll showed most people favoured either a backpackers (28%) or a boutique hotel (23%), a museum (21%), bar (15%) or exhibition space (13%).

Mrs Barsby said she would like to get a group of interested people together to create a plan for the building.

"It is a huge opportunity for Dunedin."

Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand chairman Stewart Harvey said he would prepare a paper on the possibilities for the prison.



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