Christchurch Arts Centre in confidential talks with hospitality group to take over Dux de Lux building

The building before the earthquake.
The building before the earthquake. Photo credit: Christchurch City Libraries.

By Niva Chittock for RNZ

Christchurch's Arts Centre says it is in confidential talks with a new hospitality group to take over the original Dux de Lux building.

The popular bar, restaurant and music venue was a fixture of the city's Arts Centre for decades, but had been derelict since it sustained serious earthquake damage in 2011.

Arts Centre director Philip Aldridge said it began talks with a new hospitality group six-to-nine months ago to restore it after years of exclusive talks with the Redux group and Dux founder Richard Sinke failed to reach a business case.

"[Redux] wanted to have [the rent] free in exchange for restoring the building, which was fine to a point," he said.

"But then they wanted it for 50 years and the Trust just felt we couldn't commit future generations to have no income for the Arts Centre. There was no benefit to the Arts Centre."

Talks with Redux concluded 18 months ago, Aldridge said.

The Arts Centre received an insurance payout of $168 million in 2012, for a total restoration that was expected to cost $290m, he said.

"We were never going to be able to restore all the buildings, we have the largest collection of heritage buildings in the motu, so we focused on restoring the Category One stone buildings," Aldridge said.

The Student Union building where the Dux was a tenant was Category Two.

The building after the earthquake.
The building after the earthquake. Photo credit: Google.

It and two of the 22 stone buildings had been left mothballed until the Arts Centre found a way to complete their restoration, he said.

"We're working with a new group who showed interest and that would be restoring the building and restoring it to its use as a hospitality outlet and as a brew bar, which is great news," Aldridge said.

Sinke said the first he had heard of the door being closed on their negotiations was through the media on Thursday.

"I'm very disappointed. I've got a very long history with that building, I was actually a student at the university when it was there in that building," he said.

"I applied for the lease in 1977 and became owner in 1980. It was such a shock when the earthquake occurred and Christchurch lost so much. This was a chance to bring something back that was much loved and that people enjoyed."

The Arts Centre shut down the proposal for Redux to find the funds itself, Sinke said.

"They didn't like that proposal as we put it to them and then there was no further negotiation or discussion which is a bit sad because we thought that was a good position to start with.

"It had been sitting broken and deserted for 13 years, so we thought it was a good opportunity for the Arts Centre and us to get the Dux de Lux back in place," he said.

Christchurch mayor Phil Mauger campaigned on getting the restoration moving and said he still wanted that to happen.

"There's always a way through to getting the Dux done. I still think there is an opportunity for us, the council, to buy that and maybe look after it ourselves or get into bed with someone else and get it fixed," he said.

Aldridge said who the Arts Centre was in talks with was confidential.

But with the Arts Centre's own funding under threat, Aldridge urged Cantabrians to make submissions to the council to keep the Trust operating.