WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A convention center, sports stadium and performing arts complex are among the big projects planned for a new-look downtown Christchurch after the New Zealand city was reduced to rubble by an earthquake last year.
Essentially given a blank slate, government planners on Monday unveiled a blueprint for the city that replaces office towers with green spaces, urban apartments and innovation "hubs" they say will give the city the feel of a college campus. Under the plan, the city will be smaller, the buildings lower in height and constructed to higher earthquake standards.
The plan has been eagerly awaited. It has been nearly 18 months since the magnitude-6.1 quake struck, killing 185 people and irreparably damaging 1,400 downtown buildings including the century-old Anglican cathedral in the city center.
"It will be safe, modern, green and will leave a legacy that makes Christchurch one of the best places in the world to live and work for many generations to come," Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said in a statement.
Many residents have become frustrated at the slow pace of recovery in Christchurch. Hundreds of substantial aftershocks have hampered progress and made insurers skittish, while government and city officials, including Mayor Parker, have been accused of dithering and bickering. Even before the plan was released, some wondered if they would end up footing a chunk of the bill through rate hikes.
Yet for many, the plan is a welcome step forward. Some see it as a unique chance to correct problems in the city, such as an excess of older-style office space that was evident even before the earthquake. The plan also comes as the aftershocks appear to be finally abating.
Government officials have not yet identified an overall cost for the rebuild or specific funding sources for all the new projects. Nick Bryant, a spokesman for earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee, said Monday that the funding will come from a variety of sources, including local councils, private investors, insurance payouts and from the central government, which has so far set aside 5.5 billion New Zealand dollars ($4.4 billion) for the recovery efforts.
Under the plan, the city would be bordered with green spaces and the overall design would give more emphasis to the winding Avon River. An earthquake memorial would be given prominence, as would a Maori cultural center. The central city square would be divided into a number of smaller public gathering spots.
The city would be broken into a series of hubs featuring related activities. For instance, there would be a health precinct anchored by a hospital, a justice precinct with courts and a police station, and a retail precinct with stores.
The plan identifies sites for big infrastructure projects including a prominent library and a convention center with the capacity to hold 2,000 people that would overlook the river. There would also be a covered sports stadium seating up to 35,000 people built in the city's southeast and an indoor aquatic and recreation center built in the southwest.
In a release, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who grew up in Christchurch, said it was important to identify sites for the major new projects so that private developers could begin planning hotels, restaurants and stores to complement them.
"I am delighted to see this plan for new development and to know that construction will soon be underway to rebuild my old hometown," he said.
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