Wellington Scoop

Town Hall – more delays


Strengthening work on the Wellington Town Hall, which was due to begin before Christmas, has been delayed till next year.

Work on the facade of the historic building began in May, and at that time the council said that the main strengthening and upgrade would start “later in 2018, once the brickwork is secure.” The council had also said in January that work would begin late this year.

But it didn’t happen. Strengthening has not yet started, and no contractor has yet been chosen.

The council’s project managers say they intended to appoint a contractor and start work in November.

However the tender responses had a large number of questions that have required more work to address than allowed for. We are working constructively with a tenderer and now expect to appoint a contractor in the early part of 2019, and start work on site soon after.

The Town Hall has been closed since 2013, and councillors have voted three times to strengthen it – most recently in the middle of last year. During Celia Wade-Brown’s term as mayor, she said strengthening would start in 2016 and the Town Hall would reopen in 2019. But the project went “on hold,” instead. Then the council said work would start in 2017 – no such luck.

When the work has been done, says the council, the strengthened Town Hall’s main auditorium will have a new, stronger floor. A new basement under the main auditorium will provide public toilets and usable space. Servicing storage and public facilities will be improved, including better loading facilities in the main auditorium with a second stage lift. The restored Town Hall pipe organ will be reinstalled.

The tiered Ilott Theatre will become a flat floor space suitable for standalone performances and a support space for the main auditorium.

The West Hall (between the Town Hall and the Municipal Office Building) will be rebuilt to provide access from Wakefield Street to Civic Square and a link to the adjacent building.

The Town Hall is on reclaimed land and sits on ageing, unreinforced concrete piles making the structure unreliable in an earthquake. The upgrade project will resolve both these factors, making the Town Hall stronger and safer.

The Town Hall opened in 1904 and is one of the city’s most important heritage buildings. It is a listed heritage building in the District Plan and has a Heritage New Zealand Category One rating, meaning it has high cultural and heritage value for the city.

The upgraded Town Hall will be part of a national centre for musical excellence. The City Council is collaborating on this project with Victoria’s New Zealand School of Music and the Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

But when will strengthening actually begin?


  1. Tony Jansen, 17. December 2018, 9:53

    I have yet to see anywhere confirmation that the public will still be able to access this great building and that it will not become the sole preserve of VUW. This building has world class acoustics and we need to retain its capacity to host public concerts. If we are renovating and strengthening it just for VUW then this is a terrible outcome. [The NZSO chief executive said in 2015: The City Council’s Civic Precinct Master Plan would ensure the internationally acclaimed acoustics of the Town Hall auditorium are put to their best use …. Under the proposed collaboration … it would be a vibrant home for the NZSO and a centre for performance, teaching, research and composition as well as music technology, recording and innovation.]

  2. Tom, 17. December 2018, 15:35

    Tony, VUW isn’t going into the Town Hall, it is going into the adjacent Municipal Office Building (depending on various factors). The NZSO would be moving into the Town Hall and possibly the Mayor’s office/Council chamber would return. Apart from the NZSO, the strengthened Town Hall would basically be operated in the same way as it was before.

    As for being publicly accessible, was it before?

  3. Feargus, 17. December 2018, 15:58

    “The Town Hall opened in 1904 …” How many earthquakes has it survived?
    “The Town Hall is on reclaimed land and sits on ageing, unreinforced concrete piles making the structure unreliable in an earthquake. The upgrade project will resolve both these factors, making the Town Hall stronger and safer.” What factors?
    “Stronger and safer” Than what?

  4. Cecil Roads, 17. December 2018, 19:00

    Well said Feargus, Get rid of all the over-paid fear mongers and OSH nannies. As you say the Town Hall has withstood all the earthquakes to date so I for one would be most happy to go into it to listen to whatever normal folk are prepared to play.

  5. TrevorH, 18. December 2018, 7:33

    The money being spent on the ridiculous convention centre should be invested in making the Town Hall a modern, world class facility for music and for hosting events. Such a waste – has the Council downgraded the Town Hall project to pursue its vanity-driven agenda?

  6. Cecil Roads, 18. December 2018, 8:47

    TrevorH for Mayor I say! We should maintain and make use of our existing buildings rather than build ‘vanity’ new ones that fail spectacularly in earthquakes (GWRC HQ, Defence Building, BNZ building…). The Victorians knew what they were doing; today’s bunch of politicians don’t.

  7. Blimey, 18. December 2018, 8:55

    If the Town Hall is that unsafe (and it isn’t ) why is it not the priority it should be? (Our entire downtown CBD is built on reclaimed land .. should we shut it down now?) The Council has such a bad record of maintaining its own buildings – how many are emptied now? The Town Hall could have been kept open for concerts, free public events and …the few conventions per year.

  8. Tony Jansen, 18. December 2018, 10:18

    Tom my point is the “Music Hub” seems to be possible only with the participation of VUW. It seems to me they are calling all the shots including any work on the old Town hall, before they agree to “move in”.
    Yes the Town Hall was accessible to the public before. I must have gone to about 50-60 gigs over the years in this wonderful building. My point is will the new occupants have sole use of it, or will concerts be again booked for public attendance. After all we have at the moment is the terrible shed on the wharf and occasional use of the Opera House. neither are really suitable for gigs.

  9. Tom, 18. December 2018, 11:14

    Tony, I see what you mean but the strengthening of the Town Hall is not being held up by the University; the music school element is pretty much peripheral to the Town Hall strengthening as it is to be located in the building next door. However, the plan for the ex Council building next door is being held up by the University as negotiations for the building continue. But the Town Hall strengthening was always meant happen a year or so before they started working on this building so it’s not like VUW’s indecision is preventing things from happening to the Hall.

    As for what is holding things up on the Town Hall, it seems like they’re having trouble finding a contractor (which makes one think that the problem they have is finding a contractor for the budget they’ve set; so it could get more expensive).

    As for public accessibility, I misunderstood you, I thought you meant you could go eat your lunch in there before. The hall will still be used for concerts. Obviously with the NZSO being permanently based there it will be used for their concerts when they need fewer seats than the MFC provides or when they need an organ. As for the other entertainers who might use it, one would hope and expect that the hall would be available to the same sort of people and groups that it was available to before. I guess the NZSO would have some preferential treatment but they don’t have so many concerts a year that this would cause problems for other people wanting to use the hall (and now that I think about it the NZSO might have always had preferential treatment with the hall just like it does with the MFC). So in conclusion I would expect that the concert hall would be operated in just about the same way as it was before it was closed, though this is an assumption.

  10. Russell Tregonning, 18. December 2018, 22:22

    I loved singing in Orpheus Choir concerts in the town hall. It is so choir & audience- friendly with its superb acoustics. Now we have to sing in venues which are much inferior.
    Climate considerations will soon make international air travel a luxury we can’t afford. Conferences will then need to be by internet connection.
    People talk of vanity projects pursued by the council. The new convention centre, in my view, is rightly described as such if it takes precedence over the opening of this neglected taonga.
    I make a plea to the council to quickly strengthen the town hall before considering construction of a new conference centre so we can sing and listen in this invaluable space. Expensive conference centres may soon become white elephants.

    First things first.

  11. Bernard C, 19. December 2018, 5:46

    The Town Hall was earthquake strengthened in 1943. The second proposed earthquake strengthening saw a doubling up of costs from $40 million in 2013 (not done) to $90 million.

    It looks to me like the Town Hall was deliberately taken off line to promote the construction of new venues. Blimey is right, it’s probably been fine to use all along. Besides no building/dwelling can be said to be “safe” in a earthquake.

  12. Blimey, 19. December 2018, 8:21

    It was also strengthened in 1992…
    How strong is strong and what happened to the engineers who strengthened it … did they just play tiddley-winks and then walk with the fee? This Council lacks transparency..secrecy is its hallmark.

  13. Tony Jansen, 19. December 2018, 10:11

    It seems the town hall has been deliberately mothballed so this secretive council can pursue vanity projects that will help make their preferred developers lots of money. The reason these deals are secret – or commercially sensitive as the council is oft to say – is because the deals are so dodgy they don’t want other potential tenderers or the public to see what they are doing. I feel we could have restored and opened the town hall ages ago. If we looked at the money wasted by the last few administrations on the following;
    Runway extension – including legal fees fighting the community; Shelly Bay; convention centre; Chinese Garden – again legal fees amounting to high six figures; Island Bay Cycleway … The list could go on.
    If the council had listened to the people of Wellington as well as conducting themselves in an appropriate and transparent manner just imagine where we would be today. [abridged]

  14. Ellen, 20. December 2018, 13:58

    This Town Hall project highlights the approach to pedestrians in downtown Wellington – two key links have been closed without even adequate signposting of alternatives. The Civic Square – Michael Fowler Centre walkway and northern footpath on Wakefield will be out of action for a long time. The temporary raised walk around part of the building is too narrow and has a drop on one side.

    How about taking the parking away and making a temporary footpath on Wakefield Street for the hundreds of people passing here every hour, and fix that temporary raised walk.