‘Ambitious’ Cromwell hall project approved

An artist’s impression of a section of the foyer of the proposed Cromwell Memorial Hall and...
An artist’s impression of a section of the foyer of the proposed Cromwell Memorial Hall and events centre. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
The saga of the Cromwell Memorial Hall is entering a new chapter.

It has taken more than two decades, divided opinions and been marred by bickering, indecision and a complaint to the ombudsman, but finally the hall project is "getting on with it".

During a public-excluded session last week — of which the recordings were publicly released — Central Otago district councillors approved what is believed to be the "most significant and ambitious capital project ever undertaken" by the council.

A new, multi-use facility — complete with auditorium, cafe, museum, cinema, meeting rooms and a variety of public spaces — will be built on the same site in Melmore Tce where the town’s existing, but ageing hall, has sat for more than six decades.

The project will cost $45.8million, up from the $31.5m budgeted for in the Central Otago District Council 2021-31 long-term plan — both a far cry from the $3m refurbishment plans mooted in 2009.

Councillors wrestled with the project’s cost blowout, however were informed further delays posed a risk to the project — and could impact promises made to a community already frustrated by the lack of progress.

The capital cost to build the new hall will be funded through a mix of endowment land sales, external grants and debt funding.

Councillors are clear they expected debt to be paid off within five years through further land sales.

However, as the hall progresses, the fate of the planned town centre redevelopment — supposed to progress in conjunction with the hall — is left in question.

Council planning and infrastructure group manager Louise van der Voort told councillors while costs for the hall had increased, they still fell within the overall budget of capital projects included in the Cromwell master plan.

With the Cromwell Town Centre still in the planning and design stages, the hall project needed to be given priority over the balance of the master plan rather than being developed in tandem as originally planned, she said.

Mayor Tim Cadogan said he "almost ... [felt] insulted to get told that".

"We went out and said [to the Cromwell community] ‘you’re going to get a hall and a mall’ and now we’re saying ‘you’re only getting a hall for the money and we’ll talk about the mall later’, so I don’t see how we do that.

"I’m not happy with having that put to me."

Cr Nigel McKinlay said in the 2021-31 long-term plan, the Cromwell Community Board had approved a funding line of $71m on two projects — the mall and hall — with a "conservative view" taken on financing and funding the debt service.

Concept plans for the proposed Cromwell Memorial Hall/Events Centre.
Concept plans for the proposed Cromwell Memorial Hall/Events Centre.
With the hall’s cost of $31m rising to $45.8m, "that may now mean a re-evaluation of the mall project’s funding".

Failing to progress with the hall could cause "incalculable" reputational damage and a potential rift between Cromwell and the wider district, he said.

The hall rebuild had dragged on too long, Cromwell ward Cr Sarah Browne said.

She did not see how the council could walk away from the rebuild, essentially for the second time.

If it did, a future council would spend more money building a hall.

"We’re saving the money now if we don’t but they’ll spend more eventually.

"The land we sell may be worth more to cancel it out but I think that it needs to come now, this has been too long."

There was a lot of learning to be done before starting on the mall.

"We’ve got an opportunity to look at whether we needed what we’ve ended up with and whether it has ticked the boxes.

"I’m sure its going to be amazing.

"I really do hope those figures are conservative ... Like you say, if Cromwell is sticking up for Cromwell, Cromwell has to empty its bank account to get what it wants."

Cr Tamah Alley said the Cromwell residents were "really, really clear" this was what they wanted.

"As much as people in Cromwell think we want to steal their assets, I’m actually in favour of building them a new one. I hope they like it."

Deputy mayor and Cromwell ward Cr Neil Gillespie was the only one to vote against progressing with the hall.

However, it was not because he was against the project.

"I think this facility will be fantastic, I just think that we haven’t got the process around it right."

While going back to the community to consult on the hall and town centre development would "kill this project" and the council’s reputation, it did not mean it was wrong, he said.

"To me that would be the right thing to do.

"Just because we got some good luck with endowment land doesn’t make it right.

"I think we are letting our community down in so many ways."

Councillors noted by approving an increased level of capital expenditure on the hall, the community would need to be further engaged on the Cromwell town centre redevelopment plans in the next long-term plan consultation.

The former Cromwell Memorial Hall will be officially farewelled in a ceremony to which the whole community will be invited.

Once demolition is finished, the new facility will take about two years to complete.