The former leaseholder of Rotorua’s Blue Baths says it’s “not good enough” the council does not have a plan for the closed category one heritage-listed building.
It comes as Rotorua Lakes Council and the mayor confirmed addressing the 88-year-old building’s structural integrity issues was not among its priorities.
The building closed on January 26 last year to investigate concerns about its structural integrity.
A seismic assessment last year found the Blue Baths met only 15 per cent of New Building Standards - less than a quarter of the acceptable standard.
Plenty Group managing director Jo Romanes told Local Democracy Reporting 14 months on from the building's closure, the council has "no plan".
"I don't think that's good enough. There should be some plan in place."
She says the building is important, not just from an architectural standpoint but for its role in the cultural history of Rotorua.
"They've just let it slip."
Plenty Group managing director Jo Romanes in the Blue Baths building in 2013. Photo / Stephen Parker / Rotorua Daily Post.
She understands the district is facing many other issues and the council is facing financial challenges, but she doesn't believe that is an "excuse" to put the building's future "on the backburner".
Romanes says the loss of the building has been "disguised" by Covid-19 but now the pandemic’s restrictions are subsiding, people will more acutely feel the void it's left as an event venue.
"It's part of the social fabric of the city."
She worries about the building's future and fears the building's issues will get worse the longer it's not addressed.
"It just seems wrong."
Romanes says her company lodged a resource consent to revitalise the building in June 2020, following 18 months of consultation with the council, Heritage NZ and iwi. It has developed “some truly stunning plans” with architects and engineers.
"It has been disappointing to see this project – which was instigated by [the] council – come to a halt with no apparent plan or urgency on how to prevent further deterioration to this category one building.
"Putting up a security fence is not going to stop the rot.”
She says the resource consent application has been put on hold and Plenty Group has commissioned an independent feasibility study to demonstrate the economic benefit to the district of a “revitalised” and higher capacity Blue Baths.
Asked what the council’s plan was for the building, organisational enablement deputy chief executive Thomas Colle says “no further decisions” have been made.
Rotorua Lakes Council organisational enablement deputy chief executive Thomas Colle. Photo / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post.
"[The] council is currently focused on making progress in its priority areas and will revisit the future of the Blue Baths at a later date.”
He says there has been no change to the building’s condition since it closed, and regular inspections are done to “ensure the building remains safe and compliant”.
He says the council does not yet know how much it will cost to address the building’s issues, and the cost to date of assessing and addressing the issues - $84,618 – has not changed.
Asked how much revenue the council had foregone since the building’s closure, Colle says as the building is not currently in a leasable condition “it would not be appropriate to speculate about potential loss of rent”.
Local Democracy Reporting asked how much rent the council earned from the building from January 26, 2018, to April 6, 2019.
Colle says the answer is commercially sensitive.
In response to Romanes’ comments, Colle says the council requested further information on the resource consent application and it's on hold while the information is sought.
"[The] council has not yet received a response to the further information request.”
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says the council’s focus is on “finishing projects already under way” and addressing “challenges that are priorities” for the community, such as housing, safety and infrastructure.
“While everyone hopes the Blue Baths can re-open again one day, it’s not currently before elected members, but will no doubt be raised at the appropriate time.”
In 1999, after 17 years of closure, the building was "painstakingly and lovingly" restored by Mike Romanes and the council, according to the Blue Baths website.
The Blue Baths, built in 1933, are a category one heritage listed building and previously hosted weddings, comedy shows, conferences and live music.
The Blue Baths building was the third major council building to close, along with the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre and Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa, the Rotorua Museum.
Both of those buildings closed due to structural concerns relating to their ability to withstand a significant earthquake.
-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air