By Lindsay Shelton
As the trees start to grow, Waitangi Park is starting to look like a real park rather than just an open space. But most people have forgotten that the Wellington City Council wants more buildings around the park – a big building to the west (next to Te Papa) and two or three to the east.
The council hasn’t forgotten. Its waterfront company has kept a list, and in a planning document which councilors are reading this week it refers to the spaces as “identified development sites.”
Many of us think it would be dreadful to allow new buildings around the waterfront park. And for the moment the council’s ambitions have been delayed. The planning document tells councilors that “the timing of commercial developments [has been] significantly deferred.” Market conditions are blamed. “We may not see development on most of the larger waterfront sites for up to five years.”
As a consequence, the waterfront company has at last “suspended” the strange work that it’s been busily doing for several years – designing waterfront buildings before it had found anyone to occupy them.
Last December, the city approved a loan of $15million to the company, to manage the “timing difference” between delayed revenue from new buildings and the cost of continuing public space development. This was supposed to make the company self sufficient.
But the recession has intervened. This week the company is asking for “temporary additional funding,” this time “$4.3million as a short-term advance.” No wonder the council has decided to wind it up. The waterfront will cost less to run if it’s taken over by the council, because of “integration of support functions” and “lower average borrowings.” The saving over the next ten years would be $5.7million.
The company is fighting back. It’s been given a closing date of July 1 next year. But it wants to carry on at least till the end of 2011. Councilors will have to decide this week. Will they remove life-support as scheduled? Or will they give the invalid one more year of life, as well as another transfusion.
They are also being told about some “worst-case scenarios.” If even one of the new waterfront buildings doesn’t go ahead, there’ll be a $9million shortfall for the city. And if none of them are built, loans of $41million would be unpaid, with an annual interest cost of $2.8million. “It is however reasonable,” says a council report “to expect that there will be commercial proceeds coming back into the project when the development market improves.” In other words, the council is determined to push on with its building plans.
In the meantime, the expiring waterfront company has come up with some new ideas. A temporary campervan park, at a price of up to $500,000, to replace a temporary car park. A temporary “tensile fabric” structure (at what cost?) on the temporary car park next to Te Papa. (The space that everyone thought would be part of Waitangi Park.) A temporary iceskating rink on Queens Wharf. It wants to use these new activities as reasons for delaying its demise. But none of the ideas is a justification for extending the life of the costly waterfront company.