Whanganui District Council should work with the owners of the heritage Thain's building on options for strengthening and reusing it.
That's the theme of a number of public submissions on an application for resource consent to demolish the severely earthquake-prone building at 1 Victoria Ave.
Submitters are urging the council to step in and look at options such as rates rebates, funding support for detailed seismic assessments of significant buildings and cost-effective solutions for heritage buildings.
Many of the 32 submissions raise concerns about the information contained in the application, the lack of detailed seismic assessment and the uncertainty of what would happen to the site if the building was demolished.
Several submitters suggest that demolition of the back part of the building could be an option.
The Whanganui District Heritage Trust said the building had two clearly defined parts, both visually and structurally.
"The most important part in terms of heritage and streetscape values fronts on to Victoria Ave and Taupo Quay. The other part, and about one third of the total area, is situated at the rear of the site. This part of the building contains much less heritage value and very little streetscape value. This part could be demolished thereby reducing strengthening and refurbishment costs considerably and providing ground floor site area to create car parking. The availability of bespoke car parking on the site would realise the potential of converting the upper floors of the building into residential accommodation."
Depletion of Whanganui's heritage building stock concerned many of the submitters.
"It is an embarrassment to brand yourself a city that values heritage, only for it to be knocked down and replaced with carparks and 'skyline' sheds," Milly Mitchell-Anyon says.
The Western Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects said elements of Whanganui's history should not be removed "unless there is no other option".
"Here in Whanganui, heritage buildings seem commonplace, but in fact we have a richness of such heritage not found in many other centres, most particularly in this one block of our main street. It is a large tourist drawcard and part of the beauty that many remember and value from their visits here. We need to remember the rarity of this and protect it."
Ben Mitchell-Anyon said 1 Victoria Ave was arguably one of the most important buildings in the old town area because of its scale, location and the fact that it is a corner building.
"If [the council] allows this building to be demolished I can see no reason why any other buildings in the old town would remain to be protected. Demolishing this building would create a precedent for further demolitions and could lead to wholesale destruction of the old town.
"I believe that we should fight tooth and nail to save these buildings as they are a part of Whanganui's identity. When accompanied by cultural attractions, the natural beauty of Whanganui, and the river itself, they form a major drawcard for visitors and potential residents."
While all the other submissions received oppose the application, Peter Robinson submitted the application be approved with a number of conditions.
Robinson suggests the approval not be signed off for six months so the council and other parties can develop an economically viable plan for retaining and upgrading the building. If no viable alternative can be produced, building consent for demolition should not be approved until the council has approved a redevelopment plan for the site and has confirmation that the plan will be completed "in a timely and proper way".
"If solutions can be found for this building it will provide valuable information and future direction leads for many other at risk buildings," Robinson says.
"If answers are not found, council is likely to find itself responsible by default for a portfolio of old and ugly buildings where owners simply cannot or will not do the necessary work."
The submissions will be heard by an independent commissioner or commissioners. A hearing date has not yet been set.