Today’s folly, tomorrow’s asset?

April 24, 2009

Did the people of North Otago protest about the money being spent on the buildings which are today valued for making Oamaru the whitestone capital of the country?

If the opposition which greeted the proposal to refurbish the town’s Opera House is anything to go by I am sure they did because one person’s vision is another’s folly and it almost always takes time before it becomes an asset.

I’m using the term asset loosely because Opera Houses don’t usually make money.  If it’s looked at on a strictly financial basis I suspect it could be regarded as a liability but money isn’t the only measure of value.

That’s not to say money isn’t important and that’s the main reason for the opposition to the stadium which is planned for Dunedin. People are concerned at not just the cost of building it but also the on-going costs it will impose on ratepayers. That debate has moved to the High Court after Stop the Stadium imposed on injunction on the project.

However, the affordability of the  project can’t be judged in isolation and I agree with the ODT editorial which said:

Alone, the stadium represents a relatively low level of risk for ratepayers and a handsome return in terms of city facilities. Its construction will provide considerable short-term benefits to the city for contractors and labour.

To deny that its existence will not enhance the city and benefit the region is simply absurd. But this project is not on its own. Both councils have several other very costly irons in the fire and their debt projections have quite pointedly illustrated the quantum of risk to the ratepayers. . .

In setting spending and debt priorities for the next 10 years or more at a time of a recession of unknown direction or depth, limited civic public works can be demonstrably beneficial but in a city the size of Dunedin – largely ignored in the Government’s plans for such a programme – these must be prioritised in terms of need, benefit, and cost to ratepayers. . .

. . . the city could defend proceeding with the stadium on this basis, because of the potential short and long-term economic benefits – particularly the association with the university – but if it chooses to do so, it must minimise the debt load on ratepayers by deferring other projects.

We can’t have everything we want and councils, like individuals, have to weigh up the costs and benefits of what they might do before choosing what they can do, knowing that saying yes to one project means no for others.

If the stadium goes ahead – and the Dunedin City Council decided on Monday that if the injunction fails it will – it will be at the cost of other projects which will have to be delayed or turned down.

But if it goes ahead it will be an asset for the city and the province, and not just for those of us here now, in much the same way that the Opera House has provided value for several generations.

If those who regarded the Opera House as a folly had prevailed it wouldn’t be here for us to enjoy today.

The foresight and work of people more than 100 years ago provided an asset for us now and the vision and work of those behind its refurbishment have ensured it will still be there providing value and being enjoyed by our children and grandchildren.

Old but new

February 22, 2009

The architects for the restoration of the Oamaru Opera House were Williams Ross  of Melbourne, a firm which has specialised in theatres.

One of the partners, Virginia Ross, has a very personal link with the project. She was brought up in Oamaru and her family were involved with the arts in the town. She recalled one Operatic Society performance in the Opera House when her father was in the cast, her mother and brother in the orchestra and her grandfather helped in the front of the house.

The restoration retained as much of possible of the old building, its fittings and character and the links with the past have been carried through in the decor.

In the Empire Room, for example, features this floor-to-ceiling representation of Britannia, taken from the programme for a World War I fund raising concert.


Was that a fire alarm?

February 22, 2009

A siren sounded part way through Mayor Alec Familton’s speech during the dinner which preceded the Oamaru Opera House Gala Showcase.

There was some initial confusion. But it soon became clear it wasn’t part of the enetertainment nor was it a hint the mayor had said enough.

A rehearsal of the pyrotechnics for the opening act had set off the smoke alarms so we all had to file out into the rain and wait for the fire brigade to arrive and declare a false alarm before we could go back in.

Not quite what was expected but given the spectacular nature of the pyrotechnics during the show, we could understand how it had happened.


Front of house

February 21, 2009





February 21, 2009

Beck stage at the Opera House used to be cold and bordering on derelect.

The architects have retained the old outside wall complete with graffiti. Messages scored into the stone include a message that rugby sucks and others which suggest that lack of  moral rectitude wasn’t unknown among the youth of previous generations.


Yesterday morning not everything had found a home:


But the dressing rooms which were cold, dingy and dirty are ready for tonight’s gala showcase.



Council chamber

February 21, 2009

More pics of the Oamaru Opera House.

This was the Oamaru Borough’s council chamber and the ODT reporter reminded me the press used to have to sit in front of the mayor’s chair where everyone could see if they were taking notes or not.



The auditorium

February 20, 2009




%d bloggers like this: