Wellington Scoop

A nightmare before Christmas


by Lindsay Shelton
Wellington’s Movie Museum and Convention Centre were supposed to be opening next year. But construction of the building hasn’t started. And, after an unprecedented attack from Peter Jackson, it now seems to be doomed.

It’s a nightmare for the Wellington City Council, which agreed more than two years ago to construct the building, and has been saying for more than four years that the city needs a convention centre. (A first attempt, as part of a Hilton Hotel, collapsed three years ago.)

Till last week, the council claimed that the project had been delayed because Peter Jackson and his colleagues had not finalised the layout of the Movie Museum.

But now we’ve learned that there are major disagreements – which have been outlined by Peter Jackson in his letter to councillors which was leaked to the DomPost.

The letter provides many reasons why the project seems to be doomed.

For a start, though negotiations have been continuing for two years, Jackson says there are 55 issues not yet resolved. (The Island Bay cycleway negotiations involved 35 issues, 33 of which were resolved within two months.)

Then there’s his demand that he should have the right to terminate the Movie Museum lease after only two years, if attendances fail to reach expectations. (He must have been worrying about the falling numbers at his Great War Exhibition.) If the council spends $150m for the Movie Museum building, it’s understandable that it could never agree to allow the key tenant to walk away after only two years.

Jackson also states that he has concerns about the length of the lease, though these aren’t clear. “We cannot commit to the level of fitout required to build a world-class movie museum without any assurance around our 25-year lease.”

Then there’s his accusation that the council “seems intent on reneging on many of the terms already agreed in the November 2015 signed contract. This is the principal cause of ongoing delays …”

He complains about “an unacceptable update of the development agreement (including a change in rent terms, scrutiny of the Movie Museum Ltd and its books, need for approval and lack of freedom) …

He says there is no longer a collaborative partnership. And extraordinarily, he writes that the council is “trying to sabotage the project”. Extraordinary, in that the council’s enthusiastic expenditure to spend $150m would seem to most of us to be incredibly – if unwisely – supportive.

The Jackson attack extends to criticising the council’s decision-making processes on who was chosen to design the building and to construct it.

“There appears to be no tendering process on either the design or construction of the building, and this seems contradictory to the most efficient use of public money… Given the close ties between WCC and Willis Bond in the arrangement to secure land, we feel transparency regarding any obligations attached to this contract are clearly of interest to all parties involved. To date, our request for a copy of the contract have gone unanswered.”

The council hasn’t responded to any of the Jackson allegations – except this last one. And its response has been shaky. At first it insisted that Jackson and his colleagues had been involved in the choice of an architect and construction company. But then, embarrassingly, it reversed this stance, stating: “We agree that Sir Peter Jackson, Sir Richard Taylor, Fran Walsh and Tania Rodger were not party to the choosing of the architects and construction firm for the museum.”

Mayor Justin Lester told the DomPost he would be “gobsmacked and incredibly disappointed” if Jackson pulled out. Unless there’s a Christmas miracle, the likely result of this attack by Wellington’s most famous citizen seems to be that the mayor and his councillors will indeed be left gobsmacked and disappointed. But the city will have saved $150million (less the amount it paid to Willis Bond for the land).

They’re everywhere: Fourteen other movie museums (a list which misguidedly includes the Wellington project)
Dave Armstrong: Time to walk away?


  1. Mr Leaky, 11. December 2017, 8:15

    Let’s be clear. Ratepayers would be paying millions for years – for what? A large garage full of junk called a movie museum?? Is this really the mayor’s priority? Gobsmacked?!

  2. Andrew, 11. December 2017, 9:29

    I think many of us can live with Justin being gobsmacked and incredibly disappointed. That sums up how I feel about things he has done over the years.

  3. Traveller, 11. December 2017, 10:25

    I see that Peter Jackson’s rent for the council-owned building is/was to be $3m a year. He’s obviously now balancing this against the offputting effect of an entry fee of $35, in comparison with free entry across the road at Te Papa. He must have also taken a look at the diminishing attendances at his Great War Exhibition (now charging an entry fee), where the numbers have never come anywhere close to the inflated projections. (Credulous city councillors were willing to believe equally-unrealistic projections for visitor numbers at the Movie Museum.)

  4. Philip Matthews, 11. December 2017, 11:51

    I think Sir Peter Jackson should go back to making movies. [via twitter]

  5. Peter Kerr, 11. December 2017, 11:58

    @Philip Matthews. Even the movie making was grandiose.

  6. K, 11. December 2017, 13:14

    The real story here is that for the first time the city council has been called out directly for its unexplained no-tender gifts to Willis Bond. This is where the attention should be focused – not just for the movie museum, but also for all the other waterfront land & projects Willis Bond have been granted.

  7. Esjay, 11. December 2017, 18:30

    The Convention Centre was the dream of the Wellington City Council and not that of ratepayers. To me it seems that steam roller decisions similar to Shelly Bay have been kept “in house”. The advantage has been that no consultation and transparency has been necessary. The outcome has been an “all for show” politics.

  8. CC, 11. December 2017, 22:48

    K – The Council have been called out many times on the Willis Bond deals. The problem is that an over-blown sector of the administration is able to do questionable almost binding deals behind closed doors. More disturbingly, the elected Councillors end up being irrelevant and individuals or organisations in opposition to these deals have to have deep enough pockets to mount legal challenges. There are only a few Councillors who have sufficient gumption to call the administration out, but not enough to make a difference. It is very sad that it takes a disgruntled Peter Jackson before the media takes any notice. Usually the DomPost in particular goes for click-bait insults from the ‘just do it and they will come’ brigade.

  9. TrevorH, 12. December 2017, 7:34

    We need a central government inquiry into how this Council conducts its business, there has been far too much secrecy and too many deals avoiding public tender processes. The movie museum itself is a dud idea. Spend the money on water storage!

  10. Michael Gibson, 12. December 2017, 9:56

    The considerable concerns expressed by Wellington.Scoop’s correspondents are completely justified.
    WCC’s Mayor and officers have developed a technique where major decisions are made in Public-Excluded on the basis that a report includes a few figures from a developer who has already been selected on an insider basis. The actual merits of the project are thus hidden from public gaze and the only consideration is a private interest.
    This is definitely not the way to operate a public body.

  11. Murray Eggers, 12. December 2017, 10:50

    One wonders how much forethought goes into these grand projects, as to whether they are really needed/wanted. It seemed pretty obvious to me that two exhibitions commemorating WW1 was over the top for something that occurred 100 years ago. A certain right-wing element perhaps would be in favour, but seems the planners need to test a wider audience. The same applies to extending the airport, without greatly improved access, such as light rail or metro. Does the country really need another events centre, I wonder?

  12. Andy Linton, 12. December 2017, 19:34

    I’d rather see the Council spending the money on housing homeless people. I’m sick of hearing about projects like this that will “generate up to $Xmillion dollars of benefit to the local economy” when it seems that often people conveniently ignore the fact that “up to” includes zero.

  13. Pauline, 14. December 2017, 8:43

    Would like to remind Wellingtonians that in June 2013 our new CEO Mr Lavery questioned the plans to allocate money to earthquake proof the Town Hall when it could be put towards a convention centre plus a movie museum. It is therefore a puzzle as to what discussions have been held over the last four and a half years – the leaked letter says Peter Jackson’s company invested millions of dollars on consultancy and management fees and gave its time free, but a council source said staff had been exasperated by the number of meetings Jackson and TMML had cancelled.
    Once again it’s all been public excluded, so who knows who is telling the truth.