Wellington Scoop

Municipal Office Building to be demolished, and rebuilt – possibility of private investment

MOB Wcc photo
Photo from WCC

Wellington City Councillors today accepted a staff recommendation and voted to demolish the Municipal Office Building next to the Town Hall. The building was to have been leased by Victoria University as part of the new National Music Centre, but strengthening costs have risen to $84m, which councillors were told made the plan uneconomic.

A report to today’s meeting said that the potential cost of demolition and rebuilding would be “no more than option to strengthen and refurbish.” And, without explanation, it mentioned the possibility of private investment.

Staff told councillors that demolition and rebuilding would be “potentially self-funding based on tenants paying market rentals.” And there would be an “ability to involve private investment” and to “increase Gross Floor Area” with a “modern design that better meets the needs of the National Music School and unlocks highest and best use potential of the site” and is “likely to be more cost effective to fit-out for tenants while attracting higher market rentals.”

This information was later repeated:

“The Demolish and Rebuild option is anticipated to cost no more, and likely less, than the strengthening proposal, while requiring little or no lower contribution from ratepayers due to the higher rentals that a new building will attract. This approach also opens up opportunities to find partners to fund the project that are not available under the current proposal due to poor financial feasibility.

“While the demolish and rebuild option will have a larger carbon footprint, a new building willprovide better resilience (including dealing with seismic and sea level rise challenges) and will be more efficient to occupy and operate, especially if the building footprint can be optimised by including the CAB site.”

Arguing against strengthening, the report said that the existing building

“… needs significant seismic strengthening to meet the minimum standards required by the tenants … While the proposed leases to VUW and NZSO make a significant contribution to the project cost, substantial rates support is still required. A high proportion of strengthening cost is within the foundations and structure.”

But the report also said there were risks involved with demolition:

• Risk that building cannot be demolished (contributory building to a heritage area)
• Consenting risk means potentially longer period to deliver completed building
• Demolition has a larger carbon footprint than refurbishing MOB
• Potential uncertainty in relation to the use of the East Wall of the Town Hall.

and also

The Demolish and Rebuild option is higher risk due to the challenges relating to obtaining resource consent to demolish MOB, however it is prudent to exhaust all potential options for the site given the cost and potential enhanced benefits a new building would bring to Te Ngākau and the wider city. Retaining and restoring the MOB would preserve the building’s contribution to the heritage values of Te Ngākau and the wider city. These benefits need to be considered as a positive contribution to offsetting the costs of restoring the building. Unfortunately, there is no option to do nothing, if MOB is unable to be demolished and a new building erected to replace it then Council is faced with having to work with options to strengthen the existing building.

Officers are therefore seeking the inclusion of a $750,000 within the 2021-31 Long Term Plan to undertake the work required to determine if resource consent for the demolition of MOB can be achieved.

Demolition is also being considered for the adjacent Civic Administration Building, which was damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake.

News from Wellington City Council – December 4
The Wellington City Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee will next Thursday consider the future of the Municipal Office Building (MOB) in Te Ngākau Civic Square. This is the planned home for a new National Music Centre (NMC).

“The National Music Centre is an exciting partnership between the Council, Victoria University of Wellington and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. It will hugely strengthen our reputation as the Creative Capital and bring more life to the heart of our city – Te Ngākau Civic Square,” says Mayor Andy Foster.

“The design work to strengthen and upgrade the building has been completed and the cost at $84 million means that it is uneconomic to strengthen the building without ongoing ratepayer funding. Because of the age and structure of the building the strengthening work would not deliver a highly resilient building which also may not be usable after an earthquake.

“Next week Councillors will be making some difficult decisions about the building’s future. Council officers’ preferred option has changed from strengthening it to demolishing it and building a new one.

“Under the planning rules the MOB is considered a significant building within the precinct. This would require a resource consent to demolish it and build a new structure. The planning laws set a high bar for demolitions to be approved, which may cause lengthy and costly delays.

“If adopted, $750,000 would be budgeted for in the 2021-2031 Long-term Plan for the consenting process for demolition. This would then be taken to the public for consultation.

civic admin building fate of

“We also recently settled the adjacent Civic Administration Building (CAB) insurance claim. CAB was significantly damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake. If both buildings were able to be demolished it would provide more scope as a community to reimagine Te Ngākau Civic Precinct.

“We need to consider the principles we want for the precinct’s future.

“As a starter it must be resilient. Buildings should be accessible and encourage activity in and around them. There may be opportunities to look at rooftop places and accommodate a variety of activities that attract a broad range of people to the precinct. It needs to be adaptable, beautiful, a place for events, music, entertainment, protests, celebrations, a place to enjoy and be proud of – a place for everyone, a place for life!”

“Wellingtonians want the heart of our city alive and beating again, and I know Councillors share my strong desire to make decisions quickly and get on with the job.

“While we make these decisions on MOB, CAB and the wider Te Ngākau civic precinct, the Town Hall seismic strengthening work is in full swing. It is a complex job, 462 piles are being drilled deep into the ground, new reinforced concrete floors being poured, 126 base isolators are being installed, and that’s just below or at ground level. We can all look forward to it reopening.”

Design work is also progressing for strengthening and modernising our much-loved Central Library.

You can read the paper in the agenda on the Council website: Strategy & Policy Committee – 10 December 2020, 9.30AM – Meetings – Wellington City Council


  1. SuperFarmMan, 10. December 2020, 15:59

    Who are these secret developer/“partners? What discussions have they had with council staff? What are they offering?”

  2. Code Brown, 10. December 2020, 16:11

    It feels like the council won’t stop until Civic Square is razed to the ground. The Town Hall and the Central Library were on the chopping block for a while, and the rest seem destined for demolition including the bridge over the quays. What’s the end game here?

  3. Feminist, 10. December 2020, 16:36

    Did you know the Council’s new rationale for demolishing? (Same argument was used for the library). “From a resilience perspective, while the building will be strengthened, there is no guarantee it will be useable after an earthquake.” Really! Has the Council given itself such supernatural powers that it can ensure all (new) buildings will be useable after an earthquake? What a ridiculous statement.

  4. Dave B, 10. December 2020, 16:51

    Is there someone with a vested interest in knocking buildings down and rebuilding from scratch who is pushing this agenda? The argument that strengthening is not cost-effective but demolishing and rebuilding somehow is cost-effective, was also applied to the Central Library but was later de-bunked. Can we have any confidence in the same argument this time around?

  5. Conor, 10. December 2020, 19:13

    To be fair to the council – earthquake strengthening has proven a massive costly headache at other council owned buildings including the Town Hall and St James. They’ve both ended up costing significantly more than budgeted for. The Opera House and Library are other costly earthquake strengthening projects which may end up costing more than budgeted.

  6. Toni, 10. December 2020, 19:31

    Exactly how much is the WCC subsidising the National School of Music ? And why is having the school there unlocking the “highest and best use potential of the site”.
    What about the council offices? Are they coming back to “Civic” square?