A $20 million new city council building is in the offering for Lower Hutt to give the city’s tired central business district a boost.
Retailers, business leaders and the mayor agree the central city lacks a heart and there is tentative support for the Hutt City Council’s ideas.
Along with the “multi-purpose civic building” proposed for High St near the Hutt River, councillors are also supporting a new bridge from State Highway 2 into the city, a riverside promenade and a green area around the NewDowse art gallery.
The ideas, backed by a council committee last night, are part of longterm plans to revitalise the central city by 2030.
A report prepared for the council says the central business district is unfriendly to pedestrians, full of big box developments and lacking in entertainment options.
Lower Hutt Mayor David Ogden has called for help from a local retailing figure, in the manner of Newmarket Business Association’s Cameron Brewer, because of the big number of empty shops in the city.
“I’ve been getting more and more frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be an effective way of addressing the lack of vitality and vibrancy here,” Mr Ogden said.
The new council building was a good idea because the council’s existing premises would need $15 million to $20m of earthquake strengthening in 2018, he said.
“I’m not prepared to put it off, so we would have to move out in any event … It behoves us to have a place where people will gather and have a social life together.”
The proposed building roughly costed at $21.5m would include 6000 square metres of space for the council, as well as space for parking and shops.
The council report suggests that moving into the struggling southern end of High St could spark development in the area, while a nearby public square would link the city and the Hutt River.
But moving from the council’s present Laings Rd site would also mean finding a new owner, such as a hotel.
Professionals Hutt City owner John Ross said the central business district “lacks soul” at present.
It would be easy to find a developer who could take on the existing council buildings, he said.
One retailer, Mandeep Pala, said there had been plenty of consultation about the proposals, though he was ambivalent about the council’s planned new home.
“If they could spend money on other things, that would be better. But it [council repairs] hasn’t been done in 50 years, so I think it’s probably justified.”
Artists impression of development in Laings Road Lower Hutt looking towards Hutt River.