Prior to the 2010 earthquakes, Cathedral Square was the undisputed heart of Christchurch.

Now, an ambitious crowd-funded project is set to restart that heart, and again make the Square a place for the people.

Christchurch businessman Darin Rainbird will this week launch a PledgeMe campaign to support his plan to convert the restored 140-year-old former Chief Post Office in Cathedral Square, (estd. 1879) into ‘The Grand’ – a world-class destination of food and entertainment, complete with artisan French bakery, visitor information centre and one of New Zealand’s largest outdoor plazas.

Rainbird says that right from the beginning the underlying philosophy has been to create a space where people can meet, greet, socialise, play, and enjoy.

“Cathedral Square has always been a focal point for Christchurch. There are some exciting developments that have brought more people back into the CBD, but there’s very little linkage between them.

“So being right in the center, we feel that The Grand can bring together the likes of the new Regent Street Precinct, The Terrace, The Crossing, and the soon to be completed Cathedral and be that vibrant central space for the people,” he says.

The Chief Post Office building is a rare surviving piece of heritage architecture still standing in Christchurch. Designed by a colonial architect William Henry Clayton in the 19th-century Italianate style, it features a central clock tower resembling a scaled down Big Ben. The iconic 750-kilogram bell has recently been repaired and returned to the tower.

Rainbird says that the building’s survival is put down to the foresight and determination of the building’s owner Gordon Chamberlain, who had already done significant strengthening before the earthquakes.

That makes the wonderfully restored building the perfect space for two floors of local produce, art and entertainment.

The ground floor has three open linked spaces: a large bakery offering which Rainbird hopes will “become the envy of CBDs around the world”, in the middle will be a gathering spot with an eatery deli, and further along, the 1879 Bar and Restaurant. The hospitality offering will spill out to the exterior, featuring one of the largest plazas areas in New Zealand.

The top floor of The Grand will be all about local produce, with a wine tasting experience, so that everyone can buy the wines of the area along with the local cheeses and the meats, as well as a pastry baking school.

A more ‘entertainment-focused’ restaurant will feature anything from live music to comedy, through to maybe some Verdi opera, with flexibility for functions and private events.

All disciplines from the art arena will also be showcased throughout the venues along with a dedicated gallery on the top level as well.

And the Information Centre that used to be resident in the building also returns to showcase the best from Canterbury and the South Island.

“A key part of the project has been the incredible support from the community,” says Rainbird.

“We decided that this was a space for Canterbury, so we wanted it to be owned by the people of Canterbury. So, the crowdfunding option allows us to give everyone the opportunity to participate if they want to.

“In addition to the crowdfund, we approached our contractors to see if they wanted to be part of the project as well. So, from the likes of our lawyers, through to our electricians, they are taking equity shares in the project in lieu of what they would normally make on a project like this. Their margins are being converted into equity.

“And our suppliers have also done the same or just provided us with equity funding in order to complete the project,” he says.

It’s been an exhausting but exciting development for Rainbird and his team, with Covid-delays impacting progress, but he says they’re now ready to go live with their PledgeMe crowdfunding offer on Thursday, 23rd September.

“Given our location, our team and the developments that are planned around Cathedral Square, we believe we are well positioned to be part of and add to the revitalisation of our city,” says Rainbird.

“We anticipate we will be welcoming the people of Christchurch, and the entire nation into The Grand in February 2022.”

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