OPINION: Transplanting community ‘heart’ needs explaining

Road kill?: Queenstown Memorial Centre and the local rugby and squash clubrooms

It’s great to see Queenstown’s council looking at a coordinated town centre plan, writes former district councillor Cath Gilmour.

The 24-page ‘Imagine Queenstown Town Centre’ document contains some good concepts and ideas, many of which have been talked about for years.

I like Mayor Jim Boult’s comments, wanting locals to “feel a sense of pride”, visitors to have an “authentic” New Zealand experience and to build on our arts and cultural offerings “because it’s so important to our identity and community character”.

Totally agreed, but the unanswered question is, how?

The council’s document and webpage background is transport-centric, describing proposed arterial route options, active transport links and parking.

What’s not explained is why they need to bowl Queenstown Memorial Centre, the library and council offices in the process.

Council’s documents commit only to replacing the RSA Memorial and council offices, which it describes as “a key catalyst for a community heart” on Stanley Street.

I’m deeply concerned there’s no equal commitment made to replace the Queenstown Memorial Centre.

Instead there’s just “an opportunity to consider community spaces that could interface with the council office development, in a staged approach”.

Queenstown Memorial Centre is where we gather to celebrate, commemorate, perform, enjoy, learn, discuss, debate and engage as locals who love this place.

We know our community wants such a heart in our CBD.

We saw this when locals drove the proposal for a performance auditorium dubbed the Remarkables Centre, led by Boult a decade ago, on the same Stanley St site.

When the $90 million cost estimate stymied that proposal, a myriad of locals, businesses, funding agencies and council rallied behind Queenstown Memorial Hall Trust’s two-year, $3.2 million refurbishment project, completed in March 2013.

Council’s also given no commitment to replacing the library, beyond a shopfront, Queenstown Art Society rooms, Queenstown Playcentre, Queenstown Pottery Club, Queenstown Performing Arts Centre and other community facilities that now stand on the Stanley St site.

These are invaluable community assets. But they are hard to acquire or replace.

They’re not paid for by business profit, so involve huge community commitment through fundraising or increased rates bills. They represent a long history of community effort.

They are the shared heart of our community – the authentic heart of local engagement that this transport proposal seeks.

Getting rid of congestion will help, but for authenticity we need more than chain stores, cafes and Louis Vuitton.

We need that beating community heart to bring us in.

There is no cost-benefit study, no route comparison analysis – absolutely nothing to explain why the route through Queenstown Memorial Centre is so strongly preferred.

We haven’t even seen the three slides shown to councillors last month as the basis for this decision, for unspecified better urban design outcomes.

A quote from council boss Mike Theelen in Saturday’s hope.

But media reports can be denied and he is not the decision-maker.

If Queenstown Memorial Centre is the proposed sacrificial lamb for reducing congestion, we need to know why.

And we need unequivocal commitment from the council to the timely funding and provision of a replacement venue to ensure the fine aims espoused by this draft plan are achieved.

We have till July 31 to give feedback.