6 Aug 2015

Christchurch Recovery : 30,000 builders swarm as Convention Centre inches closer


On that Tuesday lunchtime in 2011 when the quake struck, the control tower at Christchurch airport swung so violently, a controller has been off work on tranquilizers ever since.

When the dust, smoke and exiting bird flocks had cleared, much of the surrounding land including the airport was relatively intact. The major damage and the loss of life was in the city centre which, a geologist wrote in the late 1880’s, was ‘not fit to be built on’. The reclaimed swampland CBD saw a quarter of all four thousand buildings wrecked.

The rebuilding took a while, with empty spaces filled with innovative container and portable buildings for shopping and cafes. As rebuilding started, much of the portable structures were moved around. But it was a long and lean time between the quake, the demolitions, and the actual business of reconstruction.

2014 saw an influx and today 30,000 builders toil everywhere and the budget is creeping north of 40 billion dollars. Now Christchurch is poised for a major new Convention Centre, with Plenary Conventions NZ and the preferred Convention Centre operator Accor soon to lock in the project with an estimated NZ$500 million cost.

The 1000 seat James Hay Theatre faces demolition, leaving the Isaac Theatre Royal as the only theatre in the city of 400,000. The theatre reopened late in 2014.

The Back of House and Stage House which were newly built in 2005, suffered only moderate damage and were repaired, but the 1908 auditorium and 1928 foyer spaces were not considered repairable in their original form, due to the dangerous nature of the original unreinforced masonry walls.

It was noteworthy that earthquake strengthening carried out in 2000 prevented complete collapse of the theatre and enabled the retrieval and salvage of key heritage items and stabilisation of the Edwardian facade prior to deconstruction.

All heritage fabric has been retained, restored and/or reinstated.

The Isaac Theatre Royal (ITR) has long been the premiere performing arts venue in Canterbury, a region which polls consistently show has the second highest number of attendees at performing arts in New Zealand.

Across Christchurch are a variety of audio, lighting and events suppliers and significantly all firms operating in 2011 are still trading today – despite the city lacking venues. With all five star hotels closed, and the loss of a theatre and the convention centre, life has continued.

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