Wellington Scoop

Jo’s white elephant

by Lindsay Shelton
Jo Coughlan’s green brochure tells me she wants to build a new “covered arena” seating 10,000 to 12,000 people. It’s an idea that’s been around for years, with no proof that such a building would have sufficient users to justify its enormous cost.

There are two issues: are there enough Wellingtonians who could afford to pay for high-priced tickets say, ten or twenty times a year? And are there enough international touring groups – with the potential to sell 10,000 tickets – who are waiting to add us to their itineraries?

Wellington’s most experienced entrepreneur Stewart McPherson, who knows much more about touring events than the rest of us (forty years of bringing touring groups to Wellington), has said such a plan would create a white elephant.

Is the market big enough? I would dispute it is. Even casting the net out to the lower North Island could leave the [new] stadium struggling for customers

And though the idea has been on various council wish-lists for years, there’s never been a business case. Where’s the list of, say, 20 or 30 international entertainers who are ready to come to Wellington if only we would build a new venue for them?

(Leonard Cohen, one of the world’s top performers, came here in 2009 and 2010 and again in 2013, without demanding a new venue. For his most recent visit, there were two shows – each selling out the TSB Arena. They were memorable shows. It would have been an inferior experience to see and hear him a venue twice the size.)

As for local events, I’ve written before that WoW would be dead in the water if it tried to present its shows in a 10,000 seat space. The NZ Festival would have little use for such a space, a fact which is evident to anyone who is familiar with their mainly theatre-based productions. And everyone knows that the Festival has been repeatedly asking the council to reopen the Town Hall, without any success.

Local sporting events that could attract 10,000 people? Jo’s new venue would be in competitition with the Westpac Arena … would this create an even bigger white elephant?

Then there’s the cost. Westpac Stadium cost the city $130million when it was built at the end of last century. And we’re still paying it off. The indoor sports centre at Kilbirnie cost us more than $50million.

Has Jo given us a price for her white elephant? There’s nothing in her green brochure on this subject. But you could guess that it would be at least $60million – to be added to the $150million that Jo and her colleagues have decided we’ll be paying to build a film museum with a convention centre on top.

Instead of dreaming of costly white elephants, Wellington needs to be much more creative in using its great venues, instead of allowing them to stay closed most of the time. The St James and the Opera House are both beautiful auditoriums, which are shamefully under-used. Then there’s the Town Hall, a magnificent place that’s been closed by the council for three years, with no sign of it reopening. But Jo doesn’t mention it in her list of promises.

Read also
A great idea, til you ask difficult questions


  1. Trevor, 25. August 2016, 9:30

    It was telling during the TV debate a few weeks ago that Jo was unable to answer a question on the size of Wellington’s present debt. We haven’t paid off the stadium yet, we’ve just been lumbered with the liability of a convention centre and film museum that will require ratepayer funding in perpetuity and now we have this stupid idea of an expensive arena while other perfectly good facilities lie idle. Not a credible candidate for this ratepayer.

  2. time for change, 25. August 2016, 11:29

    While Stewart McPherson doesn’t like the idea, the same report refers to support for an indoor stadium from promoter Phil Sprey (who operates at a bigger level than McPherson’s productions), as well as the CEO of the Stadium and the CEO of WREDA. The long term plan for WCC already contemplates an intention to fund an indoor stadium. A sound proposition needs to be developed but this is far removed from ‘white elephant’ status relative to the runway extension, light rail, sports museum and kiwis in the CBD that are being proposed by Justin Lester and Nick Leggett!

  3. KB, 25. August 2016, 17:28

    I’m really surprised there wasn’t more outrage at the construction of the very expensive single purpose Kibirnie indoor sports arena. Why on earth wasn’t it designed to also be an indoor concert venue – it is far larger than the TSB Arena.

  4. Hel, 25. August 2016, 21:30

    Agree KB, a very short sighted decision; with a bit more thought it could have been so much more. McPherson is simply one view and there have been other promoters who have opposite views. What is wrong with properly assessing the needs and merits, and sadly Leonard Cohen doesn’t swing the argument. There seemed to be a bit of public support to look at it.

  5. Traveller, 26. August 2016, 9:19

    Hel: Tell us the names of these other promoters (apart from Phil Sprey)? And what’s irrelevant about the big audience numbers for Leonard Cohen on his three visits to Wellington?

  6. hel, 26. August 2016, 13:41

    Traveller, try Manolo Echave from Chugg Entertainment and I think Phil Sprey does count as having a view worth listening to.

  7. Polly, 28. August 2016, 8:53

    As one of the many Wellingtonians who enjoys so much of the art and culture and harbour and hills, I wonder if GoJo knows how many concerts, plays, ballet, opera etc and of course movies we have in Wellington. In the last two months I have been to 20 or more of this wonderful selection and in September am looking forward to six more and of course a film or two…. and the wonderful lunch time concerts at Old St Pauls and St Andrews. Like so many I wish the Council would get on with the Town Hall as the MFC is too big for some of the concerts. Was also at Te Papa this week and observed a conference being held there and had to wonder why the ratepayers need to fund another venue across the road.

  8. Ben, 29. August 2016, 18:30

    It is really concerning that Jo Coughlan cannot tell us what the council debt is. She is a sitting councillor and mayoral candidate who has supported all these “think big” projects and now proposing even more of her own.
    Surely all councillors should be fully aware of our debt levels before promising and promoting ideas that will cost millions more of ratepayers money. When are we going to get a candidate who is more concerned with the real problems faced by Wellington city and one who will recognise that they cannot keep on expecting ratepayers to put up with unacceptably high rate increases.

  9. City Lad, 30. August 2016, 6:45

    “GoJo” will be gone soon. Going away this October.

  10. Rumpole, 30. August 2016, 11:14

    Hilda and I are appalled at the waste of ratepayers’ money on a conference centre for this city. New Zealand’s tiny population doesn’t warrant such extravagance. Teleconferencing is the answer.

  11. Ritchie Mccaw, 30. August 2016, 16:42

    Coughlan, who had to answer the first question, may have had a brain freeze on the debt level which she knows very well, but it was very telling that Leggett didn’t know the name of the Hurricanes Captain on the Backbenchers on Prime last week! If he cant remember that simple fact, how could he possibly be mayor? I guess that 18 years attending Council meetings in Porirua hasn’t helped.