Our city is in the middle of a historic transformation. Since the series of earthquakes that devastated the city beginning on 22 February 2011, both public and private sectors have made strong contributions to the rebuild of the city, with a vision to make it a greater place to live and work than ever before.
Since the earthquakes, Greater Christchurch’s economy has been fueled by billions of dollars of insurance money. This has contributed towards the $40 billion rebuild led by significant investment from both the public and private sectors – it could be said that Christchurch is involved in the biggest public-private partnership this country will ever see and we need to make sure it is a successful one.
Expenditure on Christchurch’s recovery is estimated to reach around $50 billion, when all is said and done. At the first Christchurch Leaders’ Forum last year, we celebrated an upcoming “Goldilocks” period of cranes filling the skyline and major public and private sector projects taking shape. It is a positive time for the city, but we must be mindful that funding sources are becoming exhausted. We are nearing the end of the insurance rebuilds, major banks are tightening lending criteria and need to look further afield to fund the remaining rebuild.
Right now, Christchurch is in a stage of heavy commercial development. Following Regenerate Christchurch’s release of the Cathedral Square Long Term Vision, we are starting to see what the future holds for our central city. A scan of the central city highlights a hive of building activity in key areas: near the office where my organisation, Development Christchurch Limited (DCL) is housed, new buildings are rising, and work is well underway to retain the façade and rebuild behind the Duncan’s Buildings on High St. This will help meld the old with the new.
The Crossing central retail mall opened in September, and work on the $50 million Hoyts cinema and retail complex is well advanced. At the other end of the CBD, new hospitality hotspots on The Terrace are imparting a new energy to Christchurch’s nightlife, and we’re all looking forward to the introduction of the planned new Farmers’ Market.
The public sector is doing its part too – the hospital precinct rebuild is well underway, and the brand new Central Library, Tūranga, is looking great. The Town Hall promises to reinstate the city’s premier performing arts facility, adding considerable capacity to the city’s burgeoning cultural scene. The new convention centre, Te Pae, now scheduled for completion in 2020 has already taken a number of bookings, and will draw thousands more visitors to the city and help stimulate new investment.
This is great news for a city eager to experience new options for work and entertainment. But for all the work, some empty sites remain. With insurance funds largely spent and the big banks responding to wider economic conditions, we need to look ‘outside the box’ and confront the fact that without new funding streams and approaches the goal of having 20,000 people living in the central city is at risk.
We know there is no shortage of capital in the international investment market; so our job now is to make Christchurch an attractive proposition for those investors and developers. Part of DCL’s role is to identify sources of private equity that can be matched to development opportunities. There are already good examples, such as progress behind the scenes on the mixed-use Peterborough Quarter development on the former Convention Centre site, but it is a big job that will require the combined effort of an entire city.
We need to articulate real opportunities to private investors and assist them to become part of Christchurch’s future. The time is now for us to reaffirm our vision for Christchurch and what we need to do to achieve it. Early work to develop and share a joint vision has already taken place and there is a job ahead for the city to promote the opportunities it possesses to the international marketplace.
We must open our doors, as well as our ears, to the market and understand what it will take to get investors on board. It means that, as a city, we need to act commercially and decide how we will encourage the private sector to participate in delivering public benefits.
DCL is reaching out to our investment and development partners to test the appetite for future opportunities and partnerships. What are the opportunities for them? How can they get involved? What are the stumbling blocks and what’s worked well in the past? The city must offer confidence, clarity and certainty to the market to fuel the next stage of the recovery.
It’s clear there are challenges ahead, but I’m mindful too of just how far we have come here in Christchurch. From the days and weeks following the 22 February earthquake, Christchurch has undertaken a monumental task and achieved much. Preparing to successfully navigate the challenges through smart investment attraction and decisions is essential if we are to deliver on our ideals for New Zealand’s oldest, and now newest, city.
Rob Hall, Chief Executive Officer, Development Christchurch Limited (DCL)