by Lindsay Shelton
No one wants the Convention Centre, except city councillors and the Chamber of Commerce. (Have I forgotten anyone?) But everyone wants the Central Library, because it was the heart of Wellington, with a million visitors every year. A figure that the Convention Centre will never achieve.
The city council insists that construction must continue. Its latest excuse is that the government wants plenty of employment after the health crisis is over. It says this is the reason for spending $180m to complete a building which, in the post coronavirus era, will be charitably described as a white elephant.
The city council has done the right thing to ensure that the Town Hall and the St James are strengthened. Both are a central and beautiful part of Wellington’s heritage, and both have more than a century of strong community involvement and participation, which will continue when they are reopened. But the convention centre will offer nothing for the Wellington community and will give Wellington citizens nothing to participate in.
In recent days, Wellington.Scoop readers have been explaining why they are against the convention centre.
it was dubious in the first place; now, no one will come to visit it. Can we turn it into a library or something? Yes?
Redirect the funds to fixing up Civic Square.
… agree that people will want to meet, but not $200million want to meet. Even before COVID it was planned to lose $4million a year. Big conferences are on the way out, and are about as popular with millennials and Xers as Genesis. The barn underneath will also be hard to fill.
… convention centres are all about enhancing downtown property values. Their wider economic impact on communities is generally negative. This one if it goes ahead will be a drain on Wellington ratepayers for many years to come. After this pandemic subsides, we may well find ourselves with an economy half the size of that which we previously enjoyed. The Council needs to start basing its decisions on this new reality.
The number of jobs provided by both building and operating a convention centre will be pitifully few, and most will be poorly paid. Even the idea that the convention centre was for NZers is a fanciful one. Conventions are exclusive affairs, expensive to cater for, and vague as far as measurable results.
People will meet in person again, but a convention centre is lowly placed as a preferred location. If the need to convene is so important, take a look at how the Committee to oversee the Government’s Covid-19 response works. No air travel, low-carbon, low cost and with expensive catering avoided. When it’s finished – log out.
Turn it into apartments. We need more housing in Wellington and housing is a far greater priority than a “gathering centre” that nobody is going to use.
Adding my voice to the “dump the convention centre”. The WCC needs to concentrate on the basics and think about what is really needed in our city. Inner city housing would be a start for that space along with a park of native trees.
at the moment it’s just a half finished foundation. Difficult to see why its configuration couldn’t be changed now.
Isn’t it time … that WCC councillors start to look at the really bad financial situation this city is in, and ditch the unwelcome convention centre vanity project? Lateral thinking is required.
I think it’s time for the council to come clean as to why they’re so keen on continuing with the convention centre. Have they entered us into some sort of contractual obligation which would expose us to high penalties should it be stopped?
The convention centre contract must be one of the worst contracts the council has ever signed up to. Given the reluctance to stop it, there must be huge penalties for the council if they do. It would be interesting if the process could be exposed with an OIA. If it cannot be stopped, surely during this pause in construction the internal plans could be reconfigured for either a library/office space/apartments or anything other than what will only be a white elephant.
I would add my voice to the chorus of people advocating the Convention Centre be dumped so long as it is possible to save real money this way. To this end why not bring it all out in the open under the headline ‘Council halts Convention Centre development in light of Covid 19’ and challenge any litigants to follow through in the full glare of the public eye.
Though the council wants to believe that life will be the same after the pandemic is over, others are recognising that everything will be changing.
Courtney Johnston, the chief executive of Te Papa, writing in her blog  after an international conference call, sees that the future for museums will change:
Everyone shares the sense that we will not be returning to bustling, hands-on, interactive museums – not for the next few years anyway, possibly not ever.
She quotes an American museum executive as suggesting
Secluded access to museums (very restricted numbers) may become a revenue line or membership benefit
And she touches on the issues to be resolved before any decision to reopen Te Papa to large numbers of people is made:
…can we do this safely for staff and for visitors? what level of experience will we feel satisfied having on offer? is there a point where the number of potential visitors does or does not warrant the expense of opening?
All are issues which connect with the dying concept of big international conventions. The Wellington Convention Centre was planned for gatherings of up to 2000 people  (if you believe Willis Bond’s website) or up to 1500 (which is how the city council described it, an unexplained difference.) Either way, there must be a question about whether such large gatherings will be needed, even allowed, after the pandemic is over.
More than two years ago, Ian Apperley wrote that the number of conventions was falling and many convention centres were facing every-increasing losses.  And he observed, accurately:
No matter how pretty the buildings are, they tend to be a poor fit in the urban environment. Large, imposing, pretty much dedicated to a single-use service, and mainly empty. We are promised a “café” on the ground-floor, pretty much the go to for every building approved in Wellington these days.
One Millennial said to me “Why would I support a bricks and mortar centre when I can watch any convention that interests me live streaming on my phone or television from anywhere on earth, on any topic I like, for a fraction of a cost of attending the event?”
And that was two years ago.
It’s a tough subject for the council to confront. But it must reconsider how best to spend $180m. On a white elephant? Or on renewing a building with the unchallenged position of being the heart of the city. Come to think of it, it’s been more than three weeks since we’ve heard anything from the council about the Central Library. And that information – about the costs of strengthening the building  – was curiously vague. Time for more information to be provided. And more reality to be faced.