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Kerry Prendergast: a convention centre with no conventions

convention-centre-for-april-2020-article [1]

Former mayor Kerry Prendergast has added her voice to the many who are challenging the Wellington City Council’s plan to spend $180m building a convention centre opposite Te Papa.

In the DomPost yesterday she wrote: [2]

Contracts already in place cannot be stopped but at least the Convention Centre should be repurposed – a 600-seat venue we currently lack, or as a new library perhaps? Conference business will take years to rebuild, if it ever does for international conventions.

There was more:

Borrowing for projects should be only for those that future generations will also use and enjoy. Borrowing to just move us through this current crisis is completely selfish towards our children and grandchildren. Rates should not be held lower just by pushing the cost into the future. Rates should be held – they could even be cut – by removing all non-important spending.

The convention centre certainly fits the category of non-important spending. Except that its construction will provide employment for Willis Bond and its workers. However, spending $180m for a building that will no longer be relevant for its original purpose seems remarkably strange behaviour for a council that claims it is trying to keep the next rates increase under control. (A council that continues to insist another rates increase is necessary.)

PCGM wrote about the convention centre [3] a few days ago.

An entirely stupid idea whose time has passed … It will serve no useful purpose and will be a burden on ratepayers for aeons to come. But hey – let’s not be negative. If we really want some employment benefit out of this misbegotten disaster of a project, our suggestion is to go ahead and build it to keep the tradies occupied, then burn it down on the day it opens – and collect the insurance cheque.

On eyeofthefish [4], Leviathan had a more sombre view:

My guess would be a very simple one: that the WCC signed a contract with the developer / builder, and the project would have massive costs if they were to break the contract. A contract is a legal document, holding both parties to account, and it is deliberately not something that either side can back out of easily. So I think that the building will continue to go ahead – this is no time to be discussing whether or not it is a good idea or indeed the right idea.

Quite possibly though, the scope of what goes into the building may be up for later review – conceivably a Library could work well there, next to the Museum, but equally, Council may have to think carefully about the likelihood of people ever wanting to sit in a closed room with hundreds or thousands of other people, breathing in their coughs, farts and sneezes, like we used to. Even if you apply social distancing in a convention, then the capacity of the room becomes a half or a quarter of what it once was. The viability of any conference thereafter becomes null and void…

But “a later review” – after the council has spent $180m – will be too late. Reconfiguring the building after it’s completed will be too late. Now is indeed the time to discuss whether or not a convention centre with a capacity of 2000 people [5] is a good idea, and now is the time to accept that the viability of conventions has become null and void.

Not needed? Not wanted? [6]