Why we need to save the Paramount – we don’t need bedrooms or offices


by Lindsay Shelton
There’s been consternation this week as local groups learnt that the operators of the 100-year-old Paramount cinema are not renewing their lease, and the owners of the building want to destroy the auditorium.

They’ve already tried – before Christmas, they advertised that the building was for sale to be converted into a hotel. There were no takers.

Now they’re trying again, with an advertisement seeking buyers to convert it into offices – a plan which would destroy a venue which is used by so many Wellington groups.

The Wellington Film Festival was established in the Paramount back in 1972 – and the festival depends on using the cinema for twenty days every year, bringing thousands of people into Courtenay Place. The film society screens movies every Monday evening. Indian films are screened regularly.

But the auditorium is used for much more than film screenings. The University of the Third Age (with 1000 members) presents lectures twice a week. A church group fills the seats every Sunday morning. The Royal Society, Massey University, and LitCrawl have booked the venue. And the list of national groups who have used the Paramount includes Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, Brazilian, German, South African, and Nigerian.

The auditorium is also used for music (Fly My Pretties, Don McGlashan, the Jazz Festival) and for city events such as the Zoo’s Conservation Symposium next week. Even the city council has used it, as an ideal space to launch its annual report.

As Chris Hormann of the film society has pointed out – it’s the only mid-size (400-seat) venue in central Wellington.

Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre has 320 seats, but is not readily available for community use, as it doesn’t have its own access separate from the museum’s main foyer (which is often rented-out for large events.) The University Memorial Theatre has 400 seats, but it’s not in the city centre and access is even more difficult.

The City Gallery’s Adam Auditorium seats only 134 people. The similarly small theatre at the National Library hasn’t been reopened since the building was refurbished.

The liveliness of Courtenay Place would be negatively impacted if the Paramount’s three auditoriums were replaced by bedrooms or offices. But this seems to have been disregarded by the council, which last June gave resource consent for the theatre to be redeveloped as a four-star serviced hotel accommodating up to 46 guests. If the new plans for office redevelopment are submitted, the council will have a second chance to reconsider city priorities. It should not allow the destruction of a unique public venue.

Mayor Justin Lester showed admirable leadership this week when he announced specific plans to strengthen and reopen the Town Hall (previous councils had left it closed since 2013). The Paramount gives him an equally complex challenge. No one would expect the council to buy the Paramount (though it did buy the nearby Embassy Theatre from the trust that was restoring it.) The mayor’s responsibility as the city’s cultural leader is to ensure that any new owner is committed to retaining the auditorium, and not gutting it to create bedrooms or offices.

As I wrote last November: Character. Diversity. History. Popular culture and entertainment. All would be lost if the Paramount is allowed to disappear. Over to you, Mayor Lester.



  1. Bill Gosden, NZIFF, 31. March 2017, 13:20

    While we are relieved that the Paramount has been saved for NZIFF this year we are alarmed at any impression that the venue will necessarily be lost to Wellington once the current tenancy ends. The future of the building is yet to be determined. We hope it will continue to be a venue for NZIFF and a wide diversity of Wellington communities and presenters

  2. Chris Hormann, 31. March 2017, 20:49

    There is a viable future for the Paramount and we need to come together as an arts-loving community to show that we’re not prepared to have a piece of our history lost, to make way for offices or carparks when it’s a great mid-sized venue catering to so many groups. Make your voices heard Wellington.

  3. KB, 31. March 2017, 22:19

    Readings has a similar-sized cinema (400 seats approx) with better seating, screen and audio. Wellington is blessed with a huge variety of cinemas, and the Paramount is the most dilapidated in terms of comfort and screen size. Also the Paramount building is privately owned and the public are not entitled to enforce their own desires on to other citizens’ property decisions if the owners don’t break any property rules. [The 400-seat Reading auditorium is suitable only for movie screenings; the Paramount – with 430 seats – is multi-purpose, and is therefore used by many community and cultural groups.]

  4. syrahnose, 1. April 2017, 4:03

    It’s pretty obvious that Wellington can’t put enough bums on seats to make this a viable cinema or the owners would keep it going. And the city can’t keep taking on more debt and endlessly continue to raise rates or it will lose its ‘cash cow’ ratepayers.

  5. TB, 2. April 2017, 17:38

    The previous comment does not appear to have understood the article – the owners do not operate the cinema, they own the building. The current operators of the cinema have decided to not renew their lease. The article explains that the cinema is widely used and gives examples (not only movies) which contradict the idea that there aren’t enough ‘bums on seats’ to keep it viable. As for talking about the city taking on debt or raising rates, that has not been suggested by anyone.

  6. Traveller, 2. April 2017, 17:38

    I’m guessing the building owners want more rent and the cinema operator can’t afford an increase. But with negotiation and goodwill on both sides, surely viability could be achieved. There’ve been so many memorable evenings at the Paramount which could not be replicated anywhere else in the city – for example the film society’s screening using 35mm (brilliant, perfect) to launch its season and the film festival’s screening last year of a silent film with live music (and an original score written by a local composer). Not forgetting the intimacy of the venue for performances by Fly My Pretties, Don McGlashan, Henry Rollins, and many more.

  7. parafan, 2. April 2017, 17:51

    It would be a huge blow to the city to lose this venue – c’mon people there must be some way to ensure its future

  8. Marion Leader, 2. April 2017, 18:05

    The hotel resource consent was granted “unnotified” by a single officer. Even the Mayor was reported to have been caught off-guard when she found out. What a pity that she didn’t take her own officer to the High Court through a Judicial Review which is the only way one can deal with the exercise by anyone of such a power.
    A major bone of contention has been the lack of attention given to the upkeep of the fabric of the building which is being allowed to deteriorate increasingly badly. Why? Is it something to do with letting the place fall down or making it unattractive to use unless rebuilt. As a hotel perhaps?

  9. Helene Ritchie, 2. April 2017, 19:17

    The Paramount should stay for filmgoers….Let’s see whether we can save it for the quality films it has always shown and for the heritage that is an integral part of Wellington. I joined the Film Society at the Paramount this year, realising this was something that I had wanted to do since I left school! It’s great to at last have time to do this now. The first night, I was so surprised to see the Paramount Theatre absolutely full…on a Monday night….I was lucky to get a seat. And every Monday night it’s full.

  10. Marty Fox, 2. April 2017, 21:09

    More hotel rooms and less to do? We have already lost the Rialto to offices. Reading rarely screens anything which is not a blockbuster or Hollywood mainstream. Ok so the building is scruffy, but the Paramount shows great films. City of culture or city of conformity? It’s up to us and our council. Save the Paramount. Support diversity.

  11. Marion Leader, 3. April 2017, 7:24

    Helene always struggled on the Council to get some control over the handling of resource consents. She is missed because she thought for herself and had an independent view. I am pleased that she has had a few months of leisure to enjoy the Paramount before the Council presides over its destruction.

  12. Trish, 3. April 2017, 9:51

    As members of the Film Society, we can’t expect the ratepayers to provide us with a venue for our film showings, nor a private property owner. Why don’t we got organised and work with the new owner of the site to incorporate a cinema into a new building, either owned by a Film trust as a unit title or on a long-term lease. We film lovers should meet the cost ourselves through crowdfunding etc.

  13. Karlos, 3. April 2017, 17:20

    Wellington is lacking in mid-size multi-use venues in the middle of the city, and can’t afford to lose another!
    It’s madness to put offices in the Theatre & Restaurant District! Stick a Dairy Farm in the middle of the pitch in the Cake Tin while you’re about it… that’d make as much sense.y6

  14. Polly, 6. April 2017, 8:47

    Thank you Karlos and Helene. As members of U3A we pack the theatre two mornings a week and such a handy position for we “oldies” with the bus stop right outside…..and the cafe, like many others in Courtenay Place, would miss our patronage….

  15. Jan, 8. April 2017, 12:41

    Anyone who doubts the need for this venue to be saved should take a look at the great attendance at U3A lectures on Tuesday and Friday mornings and the Film Society on Monday evenings. The Paramount is ideally situated. Let’s fight to keep it open.


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