Wellington Scoop

The best of intentions: public access into buildings on the waterfront

by Lindsay Shelton

The rumour seems to be true: Mojo the coffee company will be moving into the beautiful 104-year-old Shed 13 on the waterfront.

Mojo already have a coffee shop on the waterfront – in the new Meridian building, a stone’s throw from Shed 13. They also have ten other establishments all over town, all featuring fine design and good coffee. Apparently they’ll be using Shed 13 for roasting coffee beans and the public will be able to come in and watch.

It’s taken a long time for the city council’s waterfront company to find a permanent tenant for Shed 13. One of the temporary occupants has been Kirkcaldies, using it for a sale of underwear – nothing over $10.

An issue for any tenant of a waterfront building is the council’s best-of-intentions policy that ground floors must be open to the public. The policy is reinforced in the new planning document known as Variation 11 (the one that’s controversial because it would reduce the public’s ability to know about detailed plans for new waterfront buildings). Variation 11 states it twice.

“The waterfront is one of the city’s prime public spaces. It is important that the entire waterfront area including the ground floor of buildings be predominantly accessible to the public. To support this principle, specific rule provisions … require the ground floor of buildings to be predominantly accessible to the public and also to have active edges to significant adjacent public spaces.”

The only problem, as I wrote in January, is that while public access is desirable, there hasn’t always been an over-supply of tenants willing to occupy all the ground floors and to let in the public. A few years ago the council was asked whether it had carried out any studies on the ability of the waterfront to absorb so many new retail outlets, and whether it knew what population would be needed to make such facilities viable. It doesn’t seem to have carried out such a survey.

A huge amount of extra ground floor space could emerge in the next few years, if the council gets what it wants: three new waterfront buildings on the area known as Kumutoto near Shed 13. The council’s Wellington Waterfront Limited says it’s already negotiating with tenants; a design guide is being discussed; Athfield Architects have been commissioned to prepare plans. The buildings themselves could be popular with commercial tenants. But the ground floors? One wonders whether there are enough commercial enterprises needing public patronage which would want to set up there – away from the pedestrian traffic of the CBD.

The fate of the failed Retail Centre is a reminder of what can happen to space intended for the public. Once a shopping centre and food hall which failed to attract enough customers. Now the headquarters of Shell, its ground floor closed to the public, regardless of council policy.

In the ground floor of the new Meridian building, Wagamama and Mojo have been open since last year, and they are trading successfully according to Wellington Waterfront. But the record of other ground floor spaces in the area is not so encouraging.

The third prime ground floor space in the Meridian building has been empty since the building was completed a year ago. The intended tenant was the Eon Design Centre, which went into receivership and subsequent liquidation before Christmas.

The restaurant and bars of the nearby Loaded Hog are also in receivership. After all the attention and excitement and debate when its old building was moved on to the site by barge from Greta Point, it’s now in the hands of receivers who have been advertising for expressions of interest.

The first indications are that Mojo won’t be dependent on the public to spend money when they move into Shed 13. It’s not likely that they’ll make people pay for the experience of watching coffee being roasted. A friend has suggested that the new aroma of coffee from Shed 13 will blend with the smell of hops from the waterfront brewery on Taranaki Wharf, to create a new brand for Wellington. If Auckland wants to steal the cultural capital brand (and they’re still going on about it), then Wellington could claim to be the Aroma Capital.

More seriously, thinking about the ground floor spaces in the three new Kumutoto buildings. Is any thought being given to using their area for indoor sports? Such activity would bring lots more people on to the waterfront. But could it generate the commercial revenue that new buildings, and their city landlord, will be needing?


  1. Mary Munro, 18. March 2009, 11:03

    This commercial lease is a bitter disappointment. Shed 13 is a wonderful gallery space and if it didn’t have to earn money there would be many craft groups and artists – quilters, patch workers, wood turners, painters and glass blowers come to mind immediately – who could “set up shop” from time to time, and the public would be treated and enthralled. After all, Wellington is supposed to be the Cultural Capital. In Shed 13 we have a delightful old building, well restored and accessible going to become a commercial coffee-roasting venue. Is this really want the people of Wellington want?

  2. Trish Janes, 21. March 2009, 16:03

    I fear that we have not seen anything yet in terms of the commercialisation of our waterfront. The council is planning several large buildings straddling the gates at the north end and four buildings on Waitangi Park. The problem is that they have overspent on the open space – including gems like the hole near Te Papa – driven by the designers’ ego and desire to win prizes spending public money. Most people think the waterfront is fabulous as it is now – so do I. The problem is that it has to be paid for, hence and the car parks and leasing every possible space. Perhaps they should get the money back from the architects and advisors who indulged themselves at our expense.

  3. Kapaikai, 23. March 2009, 23:02

    I’ve always viewed the ‘public access’ question as a rather fraught one. The failed Hilton, for example, argued that the ground floor was publicly accessible … at least for those who wished to wine & dine, or, let’s not overstate the case, have a coffee, But public access to the ground floors of buildings that are gobbling up (okay, I’m biased!) the current ‘open space’ should not be dependent on the ability to pay. That’s so obviously discriminatory. Except, it seems, to our civic leaders.

  4. RPHighnam, 25. March 2009, 6:43

    Indoor sports in the bottom of Site 10 would be awesome and a great use of the ground floor, especially with glass walls so people can see the games being played and an inside viewing area. It’s a guaranteed drawcard given Shed 1’s success, but I fear WCC would much rather see offices there for the $$ aspect.