Hall cost blowout an issue for councillors

An artist's impression of the new hall. Photo: CODC
An artist's impression of the new hall. Photo: CODC
As plans to rebuild the Cromwell Memorial Hall progress, the redevelopment of the Cromwell Town Centre — supposed to progress at the same time — is on the back burner.

During a public-excluded session on Wednesday, Central Otago district councillors approved to move forward with the ambitious $45.8 million hall project.

Recordings of the meeting were made public by the council yesterday.

The capital cost to build the new hall will be funded through a mix of endowment land sales, external grants and debt funding, with councillors clear that they expected debt to be paid off within five years through further land sales.

However councillors wrestled with the project’s cost blowout, the risk was highlighted of the effect further delays posed to the hall and the impact it would have on promises made to the Cromwell community.

Council planning and infrastructure group manager Louise van der Voort told councillors costs for the hall had risen from the $31.5m budgeted for in the Central Otago District Council 2021-31 long-term plan, but still fell within the overall budget of capital projects included in the Cromwell master plan.

With the Cromwell Town Centre still in planning and design stages, the hall project needed to be given priority over the balance of the Cromwell 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 Cromwell mall and hall, with a "conservative view" taken on financing and funding the debt service.

With the hall’s cost of $31m rising to $45.8m, "that may now mean a re-evaluation of the mall project’s funding", he said.

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