3 Feb 2017

Cathedral Square takes shape again

11:19 am on 3 February 2017

After six years sitting in a derelict state, the future of Christchurch's Cathedral Square may be about to turn a corner.

Christchurch's Cathedral Square is again busy with people enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon, but five years on the cathedral still waits in disrepair.

Christchurch's Cathedral Square is again busy with people enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon, but six years on the cathedral still sits in disrepair. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

While questions remain about the future of the quake-damaged cathedral, work has already started on a series of hotels surrounding it.

The square was one of the hardest hit parts of the city but unlike other areas, has remained largely untouched by developers.

Legal wrangling over the future of the cathedral and who is responsible for the removal of an asbestos-laden office block has put them off what was once prime real estate.

But a start on construction of the nearby convention centre and the new central library seemed to have renewed confidence in the area.

Owner of the former site of The Press building to the east of the cathedral, Miles Yeoman, was in negotiations with a hotel operator and hoped to make a start on a new building this year.

"I think it's probably on the back of tourism - I think people see Christchurch now as emerging from the earthquakes and as a country we're in a pretty good place in the world at the moment with all of the uncertainty," Mr Yeoman said.

"Tourism ... is a big growth industry and we really do lack hotels in Christchurch. We did pre-earthquake and we really do now."

The newly refurbished 180-room former Millennium Hotel was due to re-open this year and plans were afoot to repair the Rydges Hotel on nearby Oxford Terrace.

Unlike the pre-quake square, which was dominated by office blocks and largely empty in the evenings, the new one should be more vibrant, he said.

"The old Press site was a bit of a back water, you used to have the old Dog House and there was a seedy element that was attracted to that.

"So it's a real opportunity to attract foot traffic that then forces those sort of elements elsewhere, and it's hotels and night life."

Construction was due to start in April on the first stage of a set of 72 high-end apartments, known as Cathedral Towers.

A director of developers Rev3, Ivan Presquito, said that as the first post-quake project in the square, it is a case of "build it and they will come".

"When we first conceptualised that project there was nothing going on, there were no concrete plans whether the cathedral was going to be rebuilt or not, and then the convention centre just pulled the plug at that stage and we thought that this was so risky," he said.

"But ... we looked at the future and what lies ahead."

Joint government and city council organisation Regenerate Christchurch was also getting on board, leading a group coming up with a set of recommendations for what the square might look like in future.

Uncertainty about the future of the cathedral could no longer be used as a reason not to forge ahead with developing the city's heart, Regenerate Christchurch strategy and regeneration planning general manager Jim Lunday said.

"The cathedral is a very small element in a large area so whilst it's a very important landmark for the city, this process goes ahead on the assumption that the cathedral or something very similar will be in that location."

St Paul's Cathedral and Federation Square in Melbourne. The alleged plot targeted central Melbourne sites.

Melbourne' Federation Square Photo: AFP

Melbourne's Federation Square was an example of a public space that worked well, Mr Lunday said.

"You look at some of the most successful public places, they've got an intricate network of lanes and roads and open spaces that have all got small footprint businesses that are quite specialist and niche.

"So they tend to be the place you go in for cultural [events], for entertainment and to live in."

A plan would be ready for the council and government to sign off on in June, he said.

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