Wellington Scoop

Farewell to Civic Square

Civic Square, 1970. WCC Photo from Old Wellington.

City council staff may never return to Civic Square after their move to the Terrace is completed in a month or two. Their absence will endanger the character of the area, because its two major office buildings will both be empty while three years of strengthening is carried out on the (also empty) Town Hall.

The council announced this week that staff will start moving out of the Municipal Office Building at the end of next month. (They’re moving to an office block on the Terrace.)

And the reason they seem unlikely to return:

Victoria University is negotiating to lease the council building for use as teaching rooms and admin space for the new music school which is to be centred on the rejuvenated Town Hall. The university says

Leasing the Municipal Office Building will allow the national music centre to encompass performance, teaching and administrative spaces. The University aims to provide downtown facilities that will build on the best aspects of the New Zealand School of Music – its high quality programmes and internationally recognised staff.

The leasing idea is a surprise, because at the start of this year. the university declined an option to buy the building, citing concerns about its strength in earthquakes. If it gets the deal to become a tenant, it will no doubt want the council to strengthen the building before it can be occupied by teachers and students.

And what of the Civic Administration Building (the orange one) – will it also need to be strengthened? Or will it be demolished? It’s been closed and empty since the 2016 earthquake, and demolition would seem to be its likely fate. If so, there’d be an opportunity to open out Civic Square and reveal the forgotten frontage of the MOB.

The council is reported to have an eight year lease on its “temporary” offices on The Terrace. That’s five years beyond the date when the Town Hall work is supposed to be completed. A sign that as a long-term policy the council is considering leasing, instead of owning, as the way of the future.

What will this mean for the long-postponed plan to rejuvenate Civic Square?

Till now, it’s been a space that speaks to a Wellington sense of place, devoted to civic functions and activities – and symbolically important in a city where central government is dominant at the other end of town. If the Council never returns, these attributes will change.

Perhaps for the better? The music school will bring a lively crowd of students into the area, and it’s also committed to becoming a “vibrant hub” offering a busy programme of performances.

But that’s not for three years, or longer if construction takes more than the promised three years. In the interim, with half of its buildings closed and empty (and with the Capital E structure yellow-stickered, and the Library also waiting for strengthening to be scheduled), Civic Square is in danger of becoming a wasteland in the centre of the city.


  1. Nora, 6. September 2018, 9:29

    Could be wrong but I understand the building that the council is moving into has been occupied by PWC, who are now in the new “eyesore” on Site 10 on the Waterfront. Also again I could be wrong but I understand Willis Bond owns the Terrace building so hope the Council got a good deal!

  2. greenwelly, 6. September 2018, 10:16

    @Nora, the old PWC building, legally 226 Lambton Quay, is owned by the Canada Pension Plan…. not Willis Bond.

  3. Benny, 6. September 2018, 10:41

    Good to see a trolley bus on that picture! 🙂 Common sense prevailed then.

  4. Nora, 6. September 2018, 10:55

    Thanks Greenwelly but just checked the Phone book and PWC are listed as on 113-119 The Terrace.
    And yes agree Benny good to see the trolley bus!

  5. greenwelly, 6. September 2018, 11:26

    @Nora, yes that is the correct Terrace address, but the legal title of the land the building is sitting on is Lambton Quay, rather than the Terrace….

  6. Ben Schrader, 6. September 2018, 11:51

    I don’t understand why the WCC is not being transparent about whether it intends to come back to Te Ngākau/Civic Square or not. Does it not know?

    And why do we continue to be kept in the dark about its rejuvenation? The space has never really worked as envisaged. This was because it was based on European squares like that at Siena. Whereas Italians like to stand around chatting on hard surfaces like pavers, New Zealanders prefer to sprawl over soft surfaces like grass – Midland Park being a good example.

    The above photo shows such a green space outside the MOB. If the Council is not going back to Civic Admin Building then it should return this space to Wellingtonians as a park.

  7. City Lad, 6. September 2018, 15:14

    Don’t forget that Sir Peter Jackson has withdrawn from the building planned for his movie museum between Wakefield and Cable Streets. Perhaps the city council intends using this for their offices?

  8. greenwelly, 6. September 2018, 15:39

    @City Lad, It would become the most expensive council offices in the country. The three-storey Convention Centre (minus the movie museum) is estimated to cost $180 million, for ~15000 sq m. The shiny new glass tower on Customhouse Quay is approx. the same rentable space and it cost $80 million.

  9. Concerned Wellingtonian, 6. September 2018, 16:03

    The key to the Council’s approach to transparency lies in Mayor Lester’s comment on 2ZB yesterday that he was not interested in people who came to him with concerns and that he was only interested in people who came to him with solutions.

  10. Mark, 6. September 2018, 19:18

    It seems likely that the CAB building will be demolished (fixing it and restrengthening it is only possible up to 67% NBS which isn’t practical) in which case they could just rebuild there. Then there’s also the possibility of the Michael Fowler Centre carpark as a site though it seems this is earmarked for another development.

    This is a presentation made to Councillors in May detailing the general (sorry) state of Civic Square and its buildings: https://wellington.govt.nz/~/media/your-council/news/files/2018/civic-precinct-presentation.pdf?la=en

  11. Citizen Joe, 9. September 2018, 8:03

    And farewell to the 100% electric trolley buses too which served Wellington so well for so may years (as the photo shows) until our uncaring city council oblivious to the idiocy of the ‘out of town’ orientated regional council allowed them to be scrapped.

  12. NigelTwo, 11. September 2018, 18:44

    I have to confess to being a little dis-orientated looking at this photograph. To those who didn’t see it in 1970:
    The view is to the south-east looking across what we know now as Victoria Street. The trolley bus has just turned into the part of Mercer Street that was closed off to make the new civic square. To the left of the bus would be what is now the library and art gallery.

  13. eyeofthefish, 11. September 2018, 22:09

    The Octagon has a large church on one side, and pubs and hotels on the other side, but largely it is a failure as a public space. Cathedral Square no longer has a working cathedral, and is just a site for spectacle of political failure, if nothing else. Auckland’s Aotea Square is the most dire abandoned quagmire, with the world’s ugliest “opera house” on one side and crass commercial ugly 90s architecture on the other side. The Auckland Council themselves have deserted it, permanently. And Wellington? What do you do when the City Council abandons the heart of the Municipal Centre that they created?

  14. Dave B, 19. September 2018, 14:03

    Thanks NigelTwo. I was indeed struggling to recognize how this picture related to Civic Square today. Although I have been in Wellington since the mid-1980s, I have lost my recollection of what Civic Square was like before the CAB went in.