Wellington Scoop

What’s happened to the movie museum?


by Lindsay Shelton
It’s now a year since the Wellington City Council voted to spend $150million to build Peter Jackson’s movie museum, with a convention centre on the top floor. A year later, there’s no explanation of why work hasn’t started.

It was on August 17 last year that councillors voted for the big spend. Nine months earlier they had bought the land and voted to spend $135million on the project, but last August they were persuaded that a more expensive facade would bring “far greater benefits.”

Mayor Wade-Brown said the $150million decision – which was taken at a meeting from which the public was excluded – “gives the green light to this key economic development project.” But the green light hasn’t resulted in anything happening on the empty site opposite Te Papa.

Justin Lester told the DomPost that an agreement with Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor – who were to lease two floors of the council’s new building for the movie museum – would be finalised by the end of November. But no agreement has been announced.

In March, I asked if the delay was connected with a drop in attendance at Peter Jackson’s Great War exhibition in the old Dominion Museum Building. The numbers had fallen by 50 per cent since a $15 entry charge was introduced. (For its first year, entry was free, and there were queues out the door.) For the Movie Museum, an admission charge of $30 was planned – twice the amount that’s had a negative reaction on numbers at the Great War exhibition.

In spite of the high ticket price, city councillors were promised that Movie Museum admission numbers would be huge. Jo Coughlan said at the end of 2015 (when the council bought the land for the new building) that “the Movie Museum will attract 310,000 people by year three.”

But in the “indicative business case” given to councillors at the same time, they’d been warned

The movie museum will obtain the majority of its revenue from ticket sales. As such, it is critical that there is a sufficient and sustained number of new visitors coming to the museum. Following the initial ‘honeymoon period’, the majority of new visitors are likely to be international visitors. …It is [also] critical that there is a sufficient and sustained number of repeat visitors … The majority of repeat visitors are likely to be domestic visitors.
… It is critical to develop a pricing strategy that sets ticket prices at a level that is profitable to [the privately-owned] Movie Museum Ltd yet still affordable and attractive to visitors. This is particularly relevant in a market such as Wellington where the majority of attractions offer complimentary admission.

Financial issues may not be the only reason why work hasn’t started on the Movie Museum. Asked why a new section of the Great War exhibition had been delayed by two years, the Trust chair Fran Wilde explained:

“Peter Jackson is the only person who could explain the delays. I think he has been busy.”

With nothing to show for its commitment of $150million, the council owes us an explanation: what’s happening with its key economic development project?


  1. Justin Lester, 17. August 2017, 17:23

    Resource consent being prepared now. The time taken has been the operators working on their design – more details in weeks.

  2. Mary M, 17. August 2017, 18:01

    What a great big ratepayer-funded business subsidy.

  3. syrahnose, 17. August 2017, 23:50

    We have at least 2-3 sets of overseas visitors who come to stay every year. I usually send them off to Te Papa and Zealandia. Maybe a quarter appreciate Zealandia, although it’s too expensive for what it offers. Most like Te Papa but I believe many wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t totally free. Almost all want to go out to the Weta Cave, where they are usually a little disappointed because it is so small and so little is on display. My impression is they would pay large sums to see a major museum containing all the stuff Taylor and Jackson have tucked away. There are reasons why major Hollywood studios have extensions of their ‘Disney-like’ LA based parks/museums in major cities in Europe and Asia. People like the culture they know. They have closer ties to that than any WWI display. All this is really a no-brainer. It is basic infrastructure for Wellington’s future.

  4. Glen Smith, 18. August 2017, 10:02

    Hopefully one of the reasons for the delay is to sort out the impact of the museum/ conference centre on transport issues. The business plan shows no substantial onsite parking for the thousands of visitors and delegates coming from the airport and north but relies on ‘car parking in close proximity’- in an area where congestion and parking is already a major problem.
    The logical solution is to attract visitors on to public transport. Unfortunately the planned ‘BRT’ via a crowded Golden Mile is forecast to be immediately over capacity (even without these visitors). So it is unlikely to attract people from their cars.
    Fortunately our transport planners seem to have finally grasped the need to add a second high-quality across-town rapid mass transit corridor. This should preferably be a direct extension of our existing rail to remove the transfer time penalty and disincentive at the Station. (Some time ago I asked Chris Calvi-Freeman for his costing of the 5-10 minute transfer penalty for across town commuters and for costings of the increased congestion for the next century due to the transfer putting people off using rail; none have been forthcoming – instead he stated ‘.. at this stage there is no proposal to model an extension of the current Metlink suburban rail service through the CBD or out to the airport’. And they claim LGWM is going to be a comprehensive review!).
    The way this relates to the Conference Centre (to get back on topic) is the route and form of this corridor. If station transfer is to be removed, a high-quality dedicated corridor is required capable of accommodating new ‘medium’ weight units that can run in a downtown environment but also function on the ‘mainstream’ train lines. Corridor options are limited. The best option (in my view) was the Quays, Taranaki St , then via Memorial Park (a tunnel parallel to Arras Tunnel) and onto a dual road/rail Mt Victoria Tunnel. The next best route (in my view) is via Wakefield Street/Kent Terrace. However Wakefield Street is around 17.5 metres curb to curb which allowing for 2 lanes of traffic (3.5m x 2) and parking on the southern side (2m) leaves 8.5 m which is adequate for rail (3.5m x 2) but leaving no space for a raised platform (essential to match our existing network). Even with parking removed on the southern side (politically difficult) the width is inadequate. Any station must impinge on a neighbouring building. Having a station at the Convention Centre would be ideal allowing direct access from the airport and most areas north. This would likely only require a few metres width on the ground floor. Incorporating it within the facade is an attractive option.
    One hopes therefore that part of the delay has been to look at options for incorporating such a station into the design. But, based on our planners’ performance to date, this is likely wishful thinking and the opportunity will likely be lost forever.

  5. Lindsay, 18. August 2017, 10:21

    Glen. Those are valid concerns. Equally concerning is what is to be planned for pedestrians wanting to cross the road to visit both museums. Will they be expected to walk to the crossings at either end of the block? Or will they – as now – try to take the shortest route by crossing the busy street when there are brief gaps in the traffic? These are issues now. They’ll be much worse if the Movie Museum ever gets built and if it attracts the large numbers that it is expecting. The obvious answer: undergrounding the road to create an expanded traffic-free plaza. No doubt we’ll be told this is unaffordable. Maybe the crude solution will be a fence.

  6. Brady Dyer, 18. August 2017, 11:27

    If Peter Jackson puts Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the museum, I’ll be there every day to see it! Hate that he has it locked away 🙁

  7. Cackle McFee, 18. August 2017, 11:44

    Wellington is not suited to subterranean roads. The roads are not even the problem with the ratepayers funding this type of private venture for wealthy businessmen and tourists.

  8. Jonny Utzone, 18. August 2017, 12:13

    Why not build an enclosed overhead corridor from Te Papa to the Film Museum that would be an architectural feature in its own right.

  9. Traveller, 18. August 2017, 16:01

    The architects’ drawing shows an enormous pedestrian crossing outside the front door of the new building. Are they expecting to have a third set of traffic lights on this block?

  10. Glen Smith, 19. August 2017, 17:12

    Undergrounding Cable St might produce a nice Plaza but would be unfeasible since achieving the required height (around 7-8m including roof) would be hugely expensive and go below sea level. However ease of pedestrian movement should be a top priority. For any future across town rapid transit rail corridor, a station in the Courtenay Place/Te Papa/Conference Centre area is vital. The logical location is, in my view, adjacent to the Conference Centre (I e-mailed Andy Foster expressing interest in his view on alternative sites, but none were offered). This would also service Te Papa/ eastern Waterfront and the Courtenay Place entertainment district. High quality crossings of Cable St and Wakefield St would be required (and in fact will be needed even if a Station doesnt go ahead).
    The pretty picture, like many architects’ drawings (remember the smiling people sitting under the concrete flyover) is fictional – just look at how few cars there are. Pedestrian crossings would be disastrous (will the 3 lanes of cars really screech to a halt whenever someone wants to cross?). And it is naive to think people would use the crossings at the end of the blocks rather than dodge traffic. A new set of lights would an option but would further hinder traffic flow.
    The ideal is complete separation of pedestrians from traffic and the best option (in my view) is overbridges. One would exit the Conference Centre above the Station on Wakefield St and enter the proposed Countdown building, then access Courtenay Place via the Reading complex. This would require discussion/integration with Countdown/Reading.The other could possibly directly access Te Papa which would require discussion with the museum.
    So it is not just a matter of building a conference centre. If planners are doing their job properly, there is a lot of detail involved in how it interacts with other aspects of the city. We should be patient, let them do their jobs properly (fingers crossed) and see what they come up with.

  11. Wellington Inc, 19. August 2017, 22:42

    What about an underground pedestrian plaza? I know these aren’t popular with planners but this would be well used not just by museum patrons – it’s a busy crossing in its own right connecting the Taranaki Waterfront towards Courtenay Place and if it’s well lit with several exits and entrances (including Market Lane and the Green Parrot) it wont be so dingy as to deter pedestrians.

  12. George, 20. August 2017, 4:22

    My simple question is – where are the stats coming from which underpin this so called investment?

  13. Venus, 20. August 2017, 8:21

    Such is the state of mind that sewerage flows into Wellington harbor and yet the people of Wellington focus on ratepayer funding for private business subsidies – and more roads and more conference centers with existing venues not filled anywhere near capacity.

  14. luke, 20. August 2017, 17:50

    Pedestrian Plazas under the quays sounds like a great idea. One at the railway station too would be a very handy way of connecting the waterfront to the city. Crossing that de facto motorway isnt easy or pleasant and it’s a fair walk to the next bridge.

  15. George, 20. August 2017, 18:39

    Down with this corporate welfare. The money would be better spent on a social project or not spent at all.

  16. Rumpole, 21. August 2017, 7:53

    With over $150m of borrowings required, of which $22m has already been used to pay for the vacant land (several million over the rateable value), the city council should scrap this debt-ridden grandiose idea. Sell the land and get back to running the city properly.

  17. Traveller, 21. August 2017, 22:54

    I’ve been thinking about Justin’s explanation at the top of this thread. It is hard to believe that designing the interior layouts should have delayed construction of the building for a year. Specially when the council is on record as wanting its top-floor convention centre to be completed as soon as possible. What else should we be told?

  18. Wellington ratepayer, 22. August 2017, 9:30

    What an outrageous investment! The council wants to borrow c$150m for this against a net debt position of $400m? I think we have bigger priorities to be funding quite frankly. Will the revenues even pay for the operating costs? How will the council pay down the debt? What about our sewerage, water and electricity infrastructure? What about our terrible public transport system? Stop this corporate welfare nonsense WCC!

  19. Tony Jansen, 23. August 2017, 13:34

    Last I heard Justin say publically was that the hold up was Peter Jackson’s and not the council’s. Is he covering any cost overruns for this delay? Seems all our City Council does is pander to wealthy businessmen by funding their grandiose dreams at ratepayers’ cost. Shelly Bay is another case in point. Let’s hope at the next elections we actually make some serious changes to our representation.