Wellington Scoop

Seven months since the vote, but the council’s “key project” hasn’t started


by Lindsay Shelton
It’s now more than seven months since the Wellington City Council voted unanimously to spend $150million constructing a new building for Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum, with a Convention Centre on top. But work hasn’t started. And no one has explained the delay.

Seven months ago, Mayor Wade-Brown said the council’s unanimous decision “gives the green light to this key economic development project.” But it wasn’t a real green light. It was conditional upon getting final go-ahead from Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum Ltd. Justin Lester was however confident that the go-ahead would come soon. He told the DomPost:

…an agreement would be formalised with Jackson and Taylor by the end of November.

It didn’t happen.

Some possible clues to the unexplained delay emerged at the weekend, in a report of the drop in attendance at Peter Jackson’s Great War exhibition in the old Dominion Museum Building. It seems that the numbers have fallen by 50 per cent since a $15 entry charge was introduced. (For its first year, entry was free, and there were queues out the door.)

Could this issue be contributing to the delay in starting work on the council’s building for the Movie Museum, where an admission charge of $30 is planned – twice the amount that’s had a negative reaction on numbers at the Great War exhibition?

In spite of the high ticket price, city councillors were promised that Movie Museum admission numbers would be huge. Jo Coughlan said at the end of 2015 (when the council had bought the land for the new building) that

“The Movie Museum will attract 310,000 people by year three.”

Early last year, the forecasts got even more optimistic, with a council report saying there would be

350,000 average Film Museum visits per year for its first ten years.

A forecast that was a reminder of the council’s experience with Zealandia, where predicted attendance numbers were not reached, and had to be revised downwards, with a consequent financial cost for the council. (A $10m loan was not repaid.) Zealandia’s original – unpopular – entry fee was $28.50. In 2013 it was cut to $17.50.

All of which suggests that the Movie Museum – a privately-owned project which aims to make a profit – could be revising its budgets and considering whether $30 would be a turnoff for potential visitors, in a city where almost every other museum attraction is free. This must also be a concern for the council, which has to be confident that the Movie Museum – its long-term tenant in the $150m building – will be able to pay the rent.

Councillors were warned about this in 2015:

The movie museum will obtain the majority of its revenue from ticket sales. As such, it is critical that there is a sufficient and sustained number of new visitors coming to the museum. Following the initial ‘honeymoon period’, the majority of new visitors are likely to be international visitors. …It is [also] critical that there is a sufficient and sustained number of repeat visitors … The majority of repeat visitors are likely to be domestic visitors.
…It is critical to develop a pricing strategy that sets ticket prices at a level that is profitable to The Movie Museum Ltd yet still affordable and attractive to visitors. This is particularly relevant in a market such as Wellington where the majority of attractions offer complimentary admission.

If financial concerns are one of the issues that’s delaying a start to construction of the Movie Museum building, another issue may be the availability of Peter Jackson himself.

In the weekend’s DomPost report, Fran Wilde – who is chair of the Great War Exhibition Trust – was asked why his interactive “trench experience,” due to open in August 2015, had not yet been completed. Her explanation:

Jackson – who was in charge of its construction – was the only person who could explain the delays. “I think he has been busy.”

Could this also be an explanation for the delay to the council’s key economic development project?


  1. Mark Shanks, 21. March 2017, 9:02

    WCC should not be in the business of underwriting private business risk with ratepayer guarantee. If it’s a profitable idea, then let the market invest. If not then it’s not currently viable. I thought the market economy was what we sold our assets for in the early 1980s?

  2. Ian Apperley, 21. March 2017, 9:10

    Peter is busy, Stone Street is running at near full capacity right now.

    Other questions remain on this project; such as why was there no public tender for the work?

    Where is the business case?

    I suspect that this, like the other vanity projects, is all noise and no trousers.

    Plus, the 1950’s called and want their Convention Centres back…

  3. Andrew, 21. March 2017, 9:55

    This is a visit-once type affair for locals. Especially with the free offering of Te Papa across the road.

  4. laidbackchap, 21. March 2017, 9:59

    Buildings on the purchased land have all been demolished other than the rental car company. As of this week. So work could be starting. [This is nothing to do with the $150m project. The demolitions were announced by the council in November because the old buildings were constructed from “fragile brick, masonry and concrete” and could have collapsed in a strong quake.]

  5. TrevorH, 21. March 2017, 10:45

    @ Ian Apperley: absolutely right about the 1950s. The myth promoted by consultants that convention centres deliver economic benefits is thoroughly debunked in “Convention Centre Follies” by Heywood Sanders, one of America’s leading urban development experts. They are an expensive scam and a bottomless pit for tax and ratepayers. Perhaps we should have a whiparound to buy Councillors a copy?

  6. Traveller, 21. March 2017, 11:49

    The information about ticket prices and declining attendances – combined with the over optimistic projections of ticket sales – is a warning for the council to be sure that the Movie Museum doesn’t become another bottomless pit for ratepayers.

  7. Richard, 21. March 2017, 13:16

    Movie Museum, Zealandia, the Stadium (and virtually every convention centre anywhere) – these sort of projects almost always have ridiculously overblown estimates of future usage. As the Councillors committing public money will never have to bear the consequences of failure, it’s no surprise these things turn out so badly.

  8. laidbackchap, 21. March 2017, 15:28

    Just imagine how many apartments they could build on that site and single handedly solve the housing crisis

  9. KB, 21. March 2017, 21:29

    @laidbackchap building another Soho complex isn’t going to help any housing issues.

  10. Leviathan, 21. March 2017, 23:08

    Lindsay, you say that this “key project hasn’t started” yet, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing going on. I would imagine that there would be at least a year of designing, drawing, engineering, applying for Resource Consent, gaining Building Consents, letting the contracts, etc, all before anything actual physical in the way of a building happens on site. So – it is quite possible that actually there is quite a lot going on, but you’re just not privy to it yet. Or you could be right, and maybe absolutely nothing is going on until PJ gives the OK. Either way, it is therefore not really any surprise that you are not yet seeing a building on site… Personally, I’m taking the demolition of old derelict structures on the site as a massive leap forward in progress, and a sign that the surveyors may now be able to get some more accurate dimensions to the architects. Next step is likely to be some test holes drilled to see what the ground conditions are like, so keep an eye out for that, and then factor in several more months for the engineers to design the foundations. Then, and only then, will you see a building start on site.

    PS – similar process for the Old Town Hall but 10x harder and 3x longer.

  11. Concerned Wellingtonian, 22. March 2017, 7:08

    It sounds as if Leviathan has heard the rumours about the state of play underground making the site very difficult for building on. Why else would he refer to test holes being drilled “to see what the ground conditions are like?”

  12. Mike, 22. March 2017, 8:16

    @Leviathan, didn’t you get the memo that ratepayers don’t want to subsidize PJ’s museum.

  13. Leviathan, 22. March 2017, 10:28

    Concerned – no, I’ve heard no rumours and know nothing about the project, I’m just saying that the things I mentioned are all pretty standard procedures for any new building – especially one built on reclaimed land. The site was a sandy muddy foreshore just 150 years ago – and following the recent quakes, it would be only sensible to know as much as possible about the ground conditions there.

    Mike – speak for yourself buddy! We have one of the world’s major film makers living here, and I personally believe that without Jackson in Wellington, we’d be a very glum wee town. The amount of money that Weta etc pumps into the economy each year is massive. You might not want to – I’m quite happy to. Rather a film museum than more roads! Rather a convention centre than a sewerage plant! Both the Film Museum and the Convention Centre will continue to pull in people and tourist dollars. They may need a subsidy too: I don’t care. Overall, they will pull in more dollars to the city than a blank empty site.

  14. Anabel, 22. March 2017, 14:47

    What can you say to someone who likes the idea of ratepayers paying $150m for a new building to house PJ’s movie museum?!
    Does he think maybe PJ can do a movie about Wellington ratepayers swimming around in sewerage (which attracts rats). A horror.

  15. TrevorH, 22. March 2017, 15:53

    @ Leviathan. Building this thing on reclaimed land is nuts – take a look across the Bay to Centreport. A subsidy from ratepayers? Yes socialise the costs while privatising any profits, the classic neoliberal way of operating. Thirdly, sewerage plants are good, they and clean water are the foundations of civilisation. Convention centres on the other hand are an embarrassing footnote from the 1950s, like polyester suits.

  16. Andrew, 22. March 2017, 16:12

    Really? You’d rather a convention centre than money spent upgrading the sewer infrastructure? There are alternative sites for conventions, however sewage normally only has one pathway available.

  17. Leviathan, 22. March 2017, 23:52

    TrevorH – virtually the whole of Wellington’s CBD is built on reclaimed land, so it’s a little late to start to get squeamish now. And don’t get me wrong – I love a good sewerage plant as much as the next person, but my point is: they are not something that gets tourists into a town. A perfectly functioning sewerage system should attract precisely Zero people every year. Great!

    But something like a Convention Centre, despite Trevor wanting to wear his 1950s polyester suit there every day, is a part of a destination city. Every couple of years I go to a Convention, and they always have them in Auckland because there is no alternative in Wellington or Christchurch. The hotels book out – rooms are a couple of hundred a night. The conference itself is not cheap. Many drinks are consumed and many people talk. Normally I stay on a couple of extra days to see people. All that adds up, and all that money automatically goes to Auckland every time. But nobody actually Wants to go to Auckland – they’d rather go somewhere else. Christchurch is still years away from getting its shit together, with Brownlee in charge they’ll never get there. If we build a convention centre here in Wellington, the ensuing benefits will be considerable.

  18. Mark m, 23. March 2017, 8:52

    Wellington City is primarily about the people who live here, not about tourists. The WCC’s function is primary services to those people, not to commercial business and tourists. If only we did not have an economic monopoly heavily invested in profiting off tourism, the benefits of tourism in Wellington not even trickling down to reach most ratepayers. Over 44% of GDP in NZ is foreign owned now, so who is profiting off these projects? It is not the ratepayers.

  19. Andrew, 23. March 2017, 9:34

    Some residents of Wellington would prefer the council uses our money to ensure that we have well maintained and capable infrastructure. I get zero benefit from having more tourists in town. I do not run a hotel, a cafe nor sell dumplings at the night market. There is also the debt that such a project creates… that’s right, who pays for it?

  20. Victor Davie, 28. March 2017, 11:59

    TePapa should have purchased the land. Literally staring them in the face was an opportunity to display thousands of items now stored elsewhere. An enclosed bridge or gondola over Cable Street linking both buildings has endless possibilities to become a Wellington attraction.

  21. Ben, 28. March 2017, 16:24

    Maybe when the convention centre becomes a lame duck they could rent it to Te Papa 🙂

  22. City Lad, 28. March 2017, 19:36

    Sir Peter Jackson and James Cameron have formed a new company. Perhaps to buy the land from the City Council? And hopefully to redesign the building to no longer resemble a high-heeled shoe.