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?