The little we know

A few weeks ago the PM was in Christchurch to present to launch of the partners for the new Convention Centre Precinct in the heart of central Christchurch. This large, expensive project has been mutely accepted as inevitable and part of the rebuild. Personally I don’t understand why there has not been more discussion of the project, and more analysis of what it means for the city and what it represents for the future of the city. The Government is refusing to offer any real information on the project, so a nuanced discussion is impossible. Below I have presented the facts as we know them.

What do we know about the convention centre:

1. It is going to be placed on two of the most important central city blocks in the city. Between Cathedral Square and the Avon River.

2. It uses land that has been compulsory acquired. That is the full force of the state to force land off its owners.

3. There is $284 million dollar of government/public money going into the project.

4. The total project will be around $500 million.

5. That means a public to private ratio of less than 1:1. International experience shows normal public private ratios should be from 5 and up to 10: 1 before been considered seriously.

6. The project will be built by a large consortium of companies, including a urban design firm Boffa Miskell that used to be owned by the head designer of the government agency running the project (the CCDU) Don Miskell.

7. The Carter Group is a major part of the consortium. Philip Carter is the brother of the speaker of the house and National Party MP David Parker.

8. The Minister in charge of the rebuild is refusing to give any information on the financial or contract information on the Convention Centre until after the election.

9. Convention Centres are almost never put in the centre of the city because they require very large access areas that become deadzones.

10. The entire centre will be operated by a very large internation French compary Accor, so presumably any profits will go overseas.

11. Publically owned streets and footpaths have been taken by the crown and included in this project. We don’t know if equivalent or better (and true) public space is going to be part of the design.

12. We know that contracts have been signed and construction is due to start in 2015.

13. The economic logic of Convention Centres is that they bring high-yield business customers into the city and the country. However most of the workers running the centres are low waged.

14. This isn’t the type of project that was asked for in the Share an Idea consultation 3.5 years ago. (The last time anyone was asked about the central city)

15. We do know that the CCC built a Convention Centre in just north of the Town Hall in 1997 for $15 million.  This new one is a little bit bigger and 25 times the cost.

What we don’t know:

1. The business case hasn’t been made public for the merits of this building.

2. We don’t know what the ownership model will be.

3. We don’t know what areas will be publicly accessible or usable. Convention Centres are like stadiums, they either really busy and you need to pay to get in, or huge and empty (most of the time)

4. Despite $284 million of public money, we don’t know what is going to be in it.

5. We don’t know what urban design characteristics it will have. How they will activate the edges? How will trucks enter the site? How much parking is part of the project?

6. The launch cost $16,000. You can see it here. We don’t know how you can possibly spend that much on a launch for around 50 people.

7. We don’t know why if this is project makes so much sense economically, it needs $284 million of public money?

8. We don’t know if there has been extensive economic research to see if a very large convention centre will work in Christchurch.

9. We don’t know who will be liable for the costs if it doesn’t work.

10. We don’t know how the spaces in this project fit into the broader ecosystem of venues and facilities in the city.

I find it very frustrating that these huge financial and planning decisions are being made with little critical examination or discussion.