Opinion: Te Pae welcomes conference delegates back to Ōtautahi

Lizzy Pearson, South Island Regional Committee member and Manager of Design and Planning at Ōtākaro Limited, give us an overview of Christchurch’s new Te Pae Convention Centre. Our host for the 2022 Property Conference in September.

Te Pae – Christchurch’s Convention Centre and New Zealand’s first world-class business events facility – is finally up and running and drawing major events to the city.

First conceived back in 2012 as a cornerstone of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, a key objective of Te Pae was to develop a purpose-built venue in the heart of the city that would attract people and investment following the devastating 2011/12 earthquakes in Canterbury.
The final two years of construction have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, and after a huge collective effort by the team the venue was opened in December 2021, only to be closed a few weeks later by Omicron management measures decimating the events sector.

Last month, however, the centre reopened and the first large events have now been hosted, bringing a welcome lift to the City. In May alone over 4,300 people attended the NZ Infrastructure Commission Conference, NZ Diary Industry Awards, Stormwater Conference, Harcourts National Convention and NZ Dance Awards, plus many more smaller meetings, dinners and events. For the many people who have worked on the building and for those who now work in the building hosting events, it was so good to see the years of effort come to fruition.
It all adds to the new, positive, Christchurch shaping up.

Te Pae is the first of three new international standard business events facilities being built in New Zealand. Located in the heart of the city, the design of Te Pae draws strongly on its South Island location, with a façade representing the contours of the Southern Alps and braided rivers of Canterbury, and interiors that reflect the landscape and seas of the Banks Peninsula. The aim was to create a beautiful building, with top-quality functionality and finishes, and that truly reflected the landscape and people of Canterbury. I think the team have achieved this – the building is certainly a far cry from the ‘big box with a big foyer’ of many convention centres around the world and is full of details and finishes that have meaning behind them.

It is also a significant building in the Christchurch urban fabric. With a 28,000m2 floor area it includes a 1,400 seat tiered auditorium; 24 meeting rooms for 20 -2,000 people; a 2,800m2 exhibition space, expandable to 3,300m2; a 1,800 seat banquet space; full kitchens, back-of-house, loading docks and a purpose-built office building for administration, and covers a whole city block (something that was quite controversial and debated widely when the concept was first published).

While the venue can host events for up to 2000 delegates, for much of the time it will host simultaneous smaller events. For example, the 1400-seat auditorium is divisible into two soundproof 700-seat venues, and the 3,300m2 exhibition space can be divided up in numerous configurations to suit needs. 

Te Pae will enhance Christchurch’s long-standing reputation as a great host city. 

Importantly, Te Pae will also boost tourism in the city’s shoulder seasons.  Christchurch is a seasonal tourist destination with a summer peak and a winter trough.  Most large business events are held from February to November, so Te Pae will benefit hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and suppliers in those quieter times.

The building cost just under $450 million from start to finish (land acquisition, consultant and construction costs included), but, even allowing for the impacts of COVID-19, it is expected to bring $600 million of direct economic benefit to the region over the next 10 years alone.  On average, business event travellers spend up to three times as much as leisure tourists, with attendees staying in city hotels, spending money in nearby cafes, restaurants, and bars, and staying on for weekends of sight-seeing.  

The team operating the facility are committed to supporting the growth of Christchurch beyond the provision of purely direct economic value, through focussing business development activities on supporting the sectors identified by ChristchurchNZ (Christchurch’s economic development agency) as important to Canterbury (aerospace; future transport; food, fibre and agritech; health tech; and resilient communities).  The indirect benefits of Te Pae will be just as valuable to the City.

The venue has already served as a catalyst for investment in retail, hospitality and accommodation.  Those who took the punt and invested early in buildings, cafes and restaurant businesses nearby, will realise their investment as the number of people and foot-traffic increases.  And those who have been waiting to develop, are getting on and doing it –   in the next few years we expect (all going well!) to see at least two new hotels open in the adjacent area, with associated retail and hospitality. 

Feedback from Te Pae visitors to date has been highly-positive, with particular appreciation of the beautiful, flexible spaces on offer, and the service provided by the operator.  

While this has been a challenging project, I can hand-on-heart say that at the end, I am very proud to have been a part of the large team of people who have worked on it, and I am very proud of what has been achieved.  Christchurch and its citizens deserve this standard of development, and coupled with the many examples of forward-looking and beautiful private sector developments in the city, Christchurch is truly a great place to be right now. 

Happy days ahead.

Author | Lizzy Pearson

Manager of Design and Planning at Ōtākaro Limited

Lizzy is an urban planner passionate about the need and ability of good quality development to support individuals, families, and cities to thrive.

She has worked for over 20 years in urban and environmental policy and project delivery, and is currently Manager of Design and Planning at Ōtākaro Limited. She is a member of the Property Council’s South Island Executive Committee, and Vice-President of the YMCA Christchurch Board of Trustees.

Born in London she moved to Christchurch in 2005, has a kiwi partner and two young children so spends most evenings and weekends in the garden or at the beach and a lot of time making snacks and reading Hairy Maclary.

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