Wellington Scoop

Credible, or incredible?


A new report shows the danger of decisions that are based on unreliable and overblown forecasts.

RNZ reports today that Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition has never met its attendance targets. First forecast to attract 500,000 visitors a year, the targets have been revised downwards – 200,000, then 125,000 – but have never been met. In the last 12 months, attendances totalled only 81,000.

The case for Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum has also been supported by similarly ambitious visitor projections.

In spite of a $30 ticket price (twice the price that’s now being charged by the Great War Exhibition), city councillors have been persuaded that Movie Museum admission numbers would be huge. The Movie Museum told councillors two years ago that it was expecting a total of 350,000 in its first year (which was specified as 2019) falling to under 300,000 in its second year and then rising for the next seven consecutive years.

The council was however warned about such optimistic projections. A indicative business case given to councillors in November 2015 stated:

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.

Regardless of this warning, councillors voted two years ago to construct a building to house the Movie Museum (with a convention centre on the top floor). At that time the Movie Museum said said it was working on concepts and designs – but this work has apparently never been completed.

Friday’s report on the two-year delay shows that the Chamber of Commerce, originally a backer of the Movie Museum, is now saying that we “need to … move on without it for the sake of the convention centre.” John Milford wants construction of the $150m council-financed building to be started so that the convention centre, planned for the top floor, will not be further delayed. But there’s no indication of what would be chosen to occupy the two floors that were intended for the Movie Museum. The council would be foolish indeed to green-light construction without a well-developed plan for this space.

In February last year, then-councillor Helene Ritchie gave a caution about the council’s enthusiasm for paying to construct a $150m building:

I consider that the Movie Museum [building] should be privately funded, with the land rented to it by the Council at a commercial return for the Council and the ratepayers. The Convention Centre is in danger of becoming a white elephant and a significant call on ratepayer funds, and it threatens other significant Council owned buildings which readily suffice for conventions and complementary facilities. Wellington’s Town Hall is one. It has the same capacity to hold conventions and conferences as the proposed new convention centre, but better additional “breakout rooms “, and strengthening is half the cost of the combined film museum/convention centre.

The Great War Exhibition is not only short of visitors; it’s also facing considerable unexpected costs, according to RNZ. The exhibition cost $7.8m to install, but its removal (from the old Dominion Museum at the end of next year) is budgetted at $9m – all these costs met by taxpayers via the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Unlike the Movie Museum, where the $150million is a commitment to be paid by the Wellington City Council.

December 2015: Council to spend $134m building Movie Museum and Convention Centre
August 2016: Council to spend $150m building Movie Museum and Convention Centre
August 2017: What’s happened to the Movie Museum?


  1. Traveller, 4. December 2017, 11:11

    The city council seems to have lost control of its $150m project.

  2. Mamil, 4. December 2017, 19:05

    How the hell does it cost 9 million dollars to remove an exhibition from a museum? [Apparently damage to the building has to be repaired, after the exhibitions have been moved out].

  3. Traveller, 4. December 2017, 21:30

    For such huge expenditure, the city council should have had a contractual “no later than” date for the Movie Museum plans to be finalised and work to have begun. But with no final plans more than two years after the council green-lit the project, it is clear that it’s time to admit defeat and cancel the $150m loan. Then if and when they’re ever ready, the owners of the Movie Museum can pay for their own building.

  4. Michael, 4. December 2017, 23:31

    “… the targets have been revised downwards – 200,000, then 125,000 – but have never been met. In the last 12 months, attendances totalled only 81,000”. Sound familiar? The council spin doctors are good at “over the top” forecasts for anything they are pushing. After all it doesn’t matter when they get it wrong, as nobody is held accountable, and – hey – it’s only public money!!

  5. TrevorH, 5. December 2017, 8:09

    Sesqui anyone?

  6. Citizen Joe, 5. December 2017, 8:50

    It is time the world moved on and consigned WW1 to history lessons. Its over a hundred years ago for goodness sake. Do we celebrate Waterloo, Trafalgar, Thermopylae? No, we moved on….I guess the forecasters forgot that the public has moved on and doesn’t care about trenchant stupidity. Hence the disappointing attendance at Jacko’s exhibition.

  7. Trevor Hughes, 5. December 2017, 11:38

    @Citizen Joe. Actually Thermopylae, along with Marathon, is worth celebrating today. The Greek victory over the Persians there ensured the survival of democracy in the West. Over two thousand years later in 1941 the New Zealand 6th Brigade and the Australian 19th Brigade held off German panzer attacks at the pass.

  8. Traveller 2., 5. December 2017, 12:32

    When will this madness stop?
    Shouldn’t heads roll?

    It has been so obvious to many of the public that this wild goose chase is just that…at the public’s cost.

    Let’s use some of these funds instead for the long delayed Town Hall before it too escalates beyond all reach.

  9. Barbara, 6. December 2017, 14:45

    I hope this building doesn’t go ahead as I think it is very ugly and agree with Traveller 2: let’s spend money on the Town Hall. Look after what we have.

  10. Alana, 8. December 2017, 22:06

    If taxpayers are spending $9 million to repair the damage caused by the exhibit at the old museum building, could we please have our art museum, that was formerly there, back? For that amount of money we should own the building again and set up proper exhibition spaces for the art tucked away from public view at Te Papa.