Wellington Scoop

Do they really think they can compete with Lambton Quay?


by Lindsay Shelton
A plan to set up a new retail centre in competition with Lambton Quay needs to be hit on the head as quickly as possible. The proponents must have forgotten the failure of the Retail Centre on Queens Wharf, which showed that customers aren’t willing to forego the familiar streets of the CBD for something off their beaten track.

The latest plan is named Project Kupe; it proposes a billion dollar redevelopment of the area north of the railway station, including a retail centre with 150 shops.

Are they aiming to kill Lambton Quay? Do they believe that all its high-profile retailers would move to a new area with no pedestrian traffic? Do they really think they can find 150 more retailers?

According to a DomPost report, a presentation to senior government leaders has called Project Kupe a “transformational” billion dollar investment. As well as the shops, it would include three hotels, a “cultural tower” celebrating New Zealand’s history, and the indoor arena.

No one could criticise the plan if it was focussed on apartments, even hotels. But adding 150 new shops is such a misguided idea.

Back in the mid-1990s, Lambton Harbour Management designed its much-derided Retail Centre on Queens Wharf to have forty shops, on a mezzanine floor above a food court. But when the building was completed, the council-owned company reported “an absence of income … following the completion of the large-scale development.”

They struggled to find tenants for the shops. And from the start it was evident that customers were not coming.

The centre was “like a morgue” and the problems had “magnified into total destruction”, a jewellery retailer told the Evening Post. “A wasteland. That’s what the Queens Wharf Retail Centre in central Wellington resembles on a glum weekday morning. Barely a shopper in sight,” the paper wrote.

In less than five years, the Retail Centre had closed, and the building (with its generous 999-year lease of public land) had been sold to Willis Bond. What had been publically-accessible spaces were converted into offices.

The lesson is clear for Project Kupe. Forty new shops on Queens Wharf didn’t work. A hundred and fifty new shops behind the Railway Station – forget it.


  1. KB, 12. September 2017, 12:18

    Having a shopping complex integrated with a public transport hub is a good idea – but I agree that 150 shops seems like a bad idea. Would be better to have much less shops with more big box retailers included instead.

  2. Wellington Commuter, 12. September 2017, 15:13

    I wonder if this development will have to prove to the WCC that it will have minimal impact on the Golden Mile shopping?

    The WCC District Plan includes Rule to protect the Golden Mile and this rule states it is to:
    “Manage the location and scale of integrated retail developments exceeding 20,000m gross floor area, to ensure they will not result in significant cumulative adverse impacts on:
    • the viability and vitality of the Golden Mile; …”

    This rule further states:
    “Council is generally supportive of new large-scale retail activities and integrated retail developments locating within Centres provided the development is of a scale appropriate to the role and function of the Centre. Because of this, if a large integrated retail development, 20,000m in gross floor area or more is proposed within Centres, Council will consider the impact of the proposed development on the viability and vitality of the Golden Mile and a range of other relevant considerations. To ensure that the Central Area retains its role as the primary retail and employment centre within the City, Council will not apply a permitted baseline assessment (ie. a comparison of the proposed activity against the permitted activities outlined in the Plan) when considering the effects of new large integrated retail developments.”

    So, just like other retail developments in Wellington City, the WCC will only let this proceed if it doesn’t take shoppers away from Lambton Quay … and people wonder why nothing decent gets built in the suburban centres.

  3. Hel, 12. September 2017, 20:01

    Comparing this with the 1990s Queens Wharf shopping centre is ridiculous. Thankfully the city has grown and developed significantly since the 1990s. Bold idea and worthy of much deeper consideration, certainly agree the mix of apartments, hotels and shopping will be important for its success but I assume this is a private development with people who know what they doing if they’re sinking close to $1b. As Wgtn Commuter points out, the District Plan should ensure a good analysis of impacts is undertaken before any consent is given. [Re the billion dollars – the DomPost report says they’re asking the government for money.]

  4. Traveller, 12. September 2017, 20:06

    I see the plan includes 2300 car parks – that’ll help the city cope with the increased traffic from Transmission Gully. You’ll park at the station, and then take light rail through the CBD?

  5. Peter, 12. September 2017, 20:49

    Sounds as though Project Kupe has all the necessities of a luxury gated community. Expensive apartments, bars and restaurants, luxury goods shops, plenty of car parks and a glitzy tower symbolising …. well need one explain? Hope there is a high concrete wall around it but too much to ask that the gate locks could only be controlled from outside the compound.

  6. Andrew, 13. September 2017, 9:27

    It looks like most of the structure will be built over the top of the railway lines. Given the failure of buildings in close proximity to the site in recent earthquakes, you’d think the designers would be more pragmatic about building over the top of a transport corridor.

  7. PCGM, 14. September 2017, 7:32

    I wouldn’t be concerned – the chances of this actually happening are close to zero. Under Justin’s leadership, this council has been exceptionally good at big, visionary hand-waving announcements, but pretty poor at delivering on anything of consequence. See also: Town Hall upgrades, movie museums, light rail, Frank Kitts Park, cycle lanes …

    Once the announcement has run its course and it has been milked for tweets and headlines, it will be off to the next new and shiny item on the visionary agenda, and Project Kupe can join its compatriots in the dumpster of history.

  8. Andrew, 14. September 2017, 9:55

    ‘ Project Kupe can join its compatriots in the dumpster of history.” Next to Sesqui?

  9. Sue Kedgley, 14. September 2017, 19:15

    Couldn’t agree with you more Lindsay. How vividly I recall the inflated plans of the Queens Wharf retail centre. It was going to attract visitors from around the region, around NZ, and from around the world!! If Project Kupe went ahead with 150 shops they would quickly close, or it would kill Lambton Quay. Or both.

  10. Brent Efford, 15. September 2017, 21:21

    A grandiose plan for the Railway Station like this, but reflecting whatever the contemporary architectural fad happens to be, has come out roughly every decade since 1950 – and then been forgotten. In the 1980s and 90s the word was “Gateway.” Remember?
    Unless the rail system is completed, as in every other city, through the CBD – in Wellington a.k.a “light rail” – and development deliberately concentrated around rail, it makes no sense at all.

  11. Jag, 21. November 2017, 14:01

    The comments here read like a whos-who of Wellington progress knockers. An ambitious private investment with private capital at risk and all you can do is pick holes in it. Is it any wonder the city has lost so much to Auckland.
    Too many vocal people who’ve never put a dollar at risk, have zero commercial sense and spend all day in “committees” paid for by the public purse.