Wellington Scoop

Going up (and not only the rates)


by Lindsay Shelton
As I prepared to pay my rates this week (up by $451 since last year) I discovered that the cost of the $150m Movie Museum building could be going up as well.

According to a DomPost report:

It was possible that Peter Jackson’s “vision” for the Movie Museum could increase the complexity and cost of the building. While such costs would typically fall on a building’s tenant, said Mayor Justin Lester, it could push up costs faced by ratepayers….If the cost of the project was to increase, councillors would be asked for approval.

As everyone knows, councillors first agreed to pay for the Movie Museum building (with a convention centre on top) when the cost was estimated at $135m (such a round figure). Then a year ago they voted to increase the city’s spend to $150m so there could be a more interesting facade. Does the mayor expect them to continue to be so compliant, if they’re asked to go beyond $150m?

According to the DomPost, again:

Although Mayor Lester said he had received no formal advice that the cost of the project would have escalated, construction costs generally appear to be increasing significantly in the capital, with a number of large projects now under way. “Given the level of construction activity that we’ve got in Wellington, I think we’ve seen a fairly significant increase in building costs.”

Sounds like a fairly broad hint of things to come.

Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum Ltd is paying for the internal costs – and these seem to have risen too. Justin Lester says they’ve gone up from $30m to about $50m.

His council wants to get on with the building as soon as possible but given the scale of the project and the “creative genius,” delays are immaterial, he says. “We’re prepared to wait as long as it takes …”

And is he preparing to ask ratepayers to spend more than $150million?


Not only the Movie Museum. There’s more big spending being lined up for Wellington, with a business case being prepared which will be trying to justify the cost – as yet unknown – of a new indoor arena to hold 12,000 people. In 2014 it was being described as a “music arena” and as a “large scale performance arena.” But …


… this week’s enthusiastic announcement from regional mayors positions it more as a multi-purpose space. (The council already has one of these – the TSB Arena, where the multi-purpose design doesn’t work well for music.) Mayor Lester says another arena will be important for the development of arts in the capital. This is hard to believe – the only way the huge space will be able to sell so many seats is by attracting the biggest names in the international entertainment business. If they’re willing to come here, and if there are enough of us who can afford to pay for enough of them.

There are better and less costly ways of developing arts in the capital. Mayor Lester should for example be worrying that the city’s annual film festival is losing its second biggest venue. The film festival sold a record number of tickets this year, but without the Paramount, it’ll be difficult for the popular annual event to continue to grow. Which doesn’t fit with the aim of developing the arts in the capital.


  1. Traveller, 31. August 2017, 8:13

    Is the Pulse likely to attract crowds of 12,000 people (as indicated by the illustration)?

  2. Neil Douglas, 31. August 2017, 8:30

    That’s a whopping big increase in your rates there Lindsay! You’ll have have less money, like the rest of us, to spend on entertainment at these new places .

    Makes you wonder why we can’t maintain and invest in what we already have rather than always seeking something new and shiny: the Paramount, the badly designed Cake Tin, the inadequate TSB Arena, the falling apart Basin Reserve cricket stadium and oh and let’s not forget the trolley buses.

  3. Build it now!, 31. August 2017, 8:56

    So Lindsay I recall you are a big supporter of restoring the Town Hall at circa $90M. Do you think the region would get better value out of that or spending $150M on another arena? I know where I would rather my money went and it’s not the Town Hall! And I reckon if you asked the general public what they would prefer the overwhelming support would fall the same way. I just paid more than $1000 to take my family to an event in Auckland which could have been in Wellington if we had the right venue. You need to think about the significant cost that is being imposed on residents having to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for events (airfares, hotels) – money that is then lost to the city. Not to mention some additional benefits attracting spend from other areas.

    I would love to take my children to Katy Perry in Auckland next year. But it’s on a Monday night so they would have to take two days off school, and us two days off work. Had she been also playing in Wellington, I could do that with no impact on their education.

    Neil Douglas, you’re an economist – work out for me how much the Wellington public each year wastes on travel to Auckland for events in travel/accommodation costs and lost time/productivity.

  4. Spectator, 31. August 2017, 9:21

    Re the mayor’s aim of (further?) developing arts in the capital – the council already owns the St James and the Opera House, two beautiful but under-used venues which should be made more readily available to local arts practitioners. Outside council control, Circa and Bats set an example by staying open throughout the year. But local arts people will not be wanting to use a 12,000 seat venue.

  5. Peter Kerr, 31. August 2017, 10:42

    @Build it now! You live in a different world to most of us. No cost is being “imposed” on residents travelling to another city for an event. You choose to go or not to go. Your difficulty in withdrawing from the work force for two days and the consequent absence of your children from school is in your hands. It’s not a difficulty ratepayers need to address.

    All many of us ratepayers want is a functioning city that pipes water, treats sewage, maintains libraries and parks, repairs roads and collects rubbish.
    The existing entertainment venues, listed above, would benefit from maintenance and investment.
    The problem lies with over-reaching enthusiasm for ideas whose cost, and whose cost/benefit, are wild guesses.

  6. lindsay, 31. August 2017, 10:52

    @Builditnow: There’s no reason to compare the Town Hall and a 12,000 seat multi-purpose arena. The Town Hall is an established city venue with many committed regular events (all displaced in recent years) and with a world-class reputation for its acoustics. The multi-purpose arena is being proposed because of the hope that there are enough international entertainers – with the potential to sell 12,000 seats – willing to come to Wellington as well as Auckland, and enough Wellingtonians able to afford to buy these tickets, many times a year.

  7. Dave, 31. August 2017, 15:14

    The town hall was going to cost $30m to fix, and then $50m, $60m, now $90m. Likewise the convention centre/movie museum costs are rising, just like all other costs in the building industry. Dithering by councillors and unexplained delays are the single biggest contributor to the inevitable consequences for our rates.
    The indoor arena has taken two years to move from ‘scoping the feasibility’ to ‘developing a business case’. Did it really need that long?
    Unfortunately Justin Lester has not shown the leadership on these projects and the cost of that is in the tens and maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. We will either get much higher rates or fewer assets developed.

  8. Ian Apperley, 31. August 2017, 15:36

    I wouldn’t be too worried. The WCC’s track record on any of the large projects is pretty much zero in the past few years. We should really name the Wellington City catch phrase to “One Step Closer” and then insert any project after that.

    Still, a mystery why our rates are going through the ceiling while congestion goes to the dogs and infrastructure slowly falls to pieces..

  9. Nora, 2. September 2017, 8:42

    Re Convention Centres – in a Listener article on February 26 2015, Pattrick Smellie quoted Texan academic Heyward T Sanders who said “how limited and elusive the returns from convention centre investments have proven to be in the USA despite a kind of arms race among cities to build more of them.”

  10. Nora, 5. September 2017, 7:46

    Former mayor Kerry Prendergast has said,about the idea of an indoor arena: “the reality is unless you can find other uses for it, you end up creating a venue that may only be used 10 or 12 time a year.” In my book, that is being very optimistic.

  11. Ellen, 7. September 2017, 10:04

    Maybe Peter Jackson could take over the Paramount and make that a film museum as well as retain it as a working cinema. Already has some history to share.
    This would solve many issues, and allow the car parking lot to be turned into something with a more active frontage than the proposed white dog-bone building. Great spot for a new market with artisan workshop spaces perhaps.