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Committed...Owner of the Grosvenor Hotel Ping Lim says central business district building owners should not be daunted by the prospect of earthquake-strengthening their buildings. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Timaru central business district building owners needing to earthquake-strengthen their buildings should not be daunted but they need to act now, before costs escalate, Grosvenor Hotel owner Ping Lim says.

Mr Lim has just received a $300,000 Heritage Equip grant to go towards strengthening the masonry parapet and walls in the hotel, which has a Heritage New Zealand category 2 rating.

“My message to Timaru people is, there is money available.”

He said Heritage Equip had been very understanding and he had received excellent support from the Timaru District Council.

While appreciative of the funding, which followed an earlier $29,100 Heritage Equip grant that enabled him to secure upgrade design advice, Mr Lim said he had already spent half a million dollars on consultants for the project. The full restoration was expected to cost $4.5million.

“It’s daunting and not for the faint-hearted.”

He said a Timaru characteristic was to leave things to the last minute. However, the issue of earthquake-strengthening for a large chunk of Timaru’s central business district was not going away.

“Some people say we’ve got years but but once it comes closer to the dateline, there will be a struggle to find the right builder and there won’t be enough good people to work on the projects.

“Costs will go up and in 10 years, with inflation, what is going to cost $1million now will be $2million.”

He said owners could end up in a difficult situation. If they did not strengthen their buildings and decided to sell instead, the chances of finding a buyer would be remote since no-one would want to touch them.

“A lot of people are trying not to think about it but we need to be proactive. The longer people procrastinate, they are doing themselves a disservice.”

If action was not taken on earthquake- strengthening, he said, Timaru’s central business district could look significantly different in 10 years time.

Stage one of work on the Grosvenor was expected to take a year.

“We will endeavour to keep the disruption to a minimum and the hotel will carry on as per normal.

“The whole strengthening process will take over a decade and we will phase out the development stages to ensure that the project is financially viable and sustainable.

“We are thankful that there is a bunch of local tradies, consultants, empathetic Government and local authority’s officials that are working closely with us to ensure that the money is to be used wisely.”

He said Heritage Equip had a hands-off approach to enable them to work through the issues themselves rather than having to be “micro-managed”.

“Yes, the process is tedious and precise, but it needs to be that way. We are talking about enhancing the safety of a historical building and preserving a piece of local heritage for future generations.

“Whilst we find it challenging, we are philosophical that we are entrusted by fate in a backhand kind of way to see it through to ensure that the maybe becomes a reality.”

Historic..Timaru’s Grosvenor Hotel has hosted many famous guests over the years, including Queen Elizabeth on two occasions. PHOTO:CHRIS TOBIN

The hotel has been on the site for many years and was extensively refurbished in 1915. It has three storeys and a cellar.

The hotel has hosted Queen Elizabeth 2 and many famous personalities over the years.

Heritage Equip grants were available to regional building owners faced with lower rental income and a shortage of locally available professional advice.