Wellington Scoop

What’s really planned for the car park?

building on mfc

by Lindsay Shelton
There may have been some frantic negotiations on Sunday night, after the DomPost wrote a report about a new building that is being planned for the Michael Fowler carpark, and how it would be occupied. Because when the council released its own announcement on Monday morning, the categories in the list had changed almost completely.

The DomPost reported that the new building’s developer Willis Bond was planning

an eight-level development featuring retail and hospitality outlets on the ground floor … the final makeup of the building would be at the developer’s discretion, but [council] papers show it may feature apartments, a hotel, or commercial premises.

On Monday morning, when the council announced the proposal, (some hours after the DomPost’s report was published), there was no mention of apartments, a hotel or commercial premises. Only that there would be

15,000sqm of new mixed-use space, the lower levels with retail or hospitality activities

This was followed by an obscurely written sentence from Mayor Andy Foster who said the new building would

potentially pave the way for the location in the precinct of the proposed National Music Centre.

Potentially pave the way? What did he mean? All previous council announcements about the new music centre had said it would occupy the Town Hall and the adjacent Municipal Office Building. But though the mayor was being vague, the messages that followed were more specific and made it seem that everything had been more or less agreed. From the NZSO’s CEO Peter Biggs:

Anchoring the National Music Centre in this exciting new building would help ensure that the Te Ngākau Civic Precinct is vibrant, distinctive and an asset for all Wellingtonians.

And from the outgoing vice-chancellor of Victoria University Grant Guilford:

An exciting opportunity to progress the creation of a vibrant and innovative new music centre. “We’re looking forward to working with the City Council and Willis Bond to bring this to fruition.”

car park building 2
Willis Bond

City councillors will be expecting more specific information on Thursday when they debate the proposal to lease the public land to Willis Bond – for 175 years, prepaid in cash. With Willis Bond eager to start construction next year. And, as usual, with all details being discussed in a public-excluded session. We are assured that “the revenue from the sale of the lease has been included as a funding source toward Te Ngākau regeneration.” But the council doesn’t want us to know how much is being paid by Willis Bond. We are however told that the proposed new building will provide approximately $2.2m of rates revenue per annum.

The national music centre isn’t mentioned in the papers for Thursday’s meeting, but it ought to be made part of the debate.

It has been taking a very long time to happen. It was announced in 2014 as a partnership between the city council, Victoria University of Wellington and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, “bringing music, culture and performance to centre stage.” But a year later the university turned out to be a reluctant partner, willing only to “explore the feasibility of partnering with Wellington…”

In 2017 the university made a cautious commitment to the first stage – redevelopment of the Town Hall. The second stage, involving buying the Municipal Office Building (next to the Town Hall) for teaching rooms and offices, was approved only “in principle.”

Then in 2018 the university said it wouldn’t buy the building because “the impacts of [the 2016 Kaikoura] earthquake on buildings on reclaimed land such as Civic Square poses new design and cost issues.”

demolished music-hub-no-430x242

Negotiations continued, and in June 2019 an agreement was signed for VUW to lease the building from the council. But first, the council had to strengthen it. And then things turned bad. The council decided, at the end of last year, that the building would be demolished. Leaving half of the music school without a home.

demolition soon

Since then, silence. Till yesterday’s sudden (and not entirely definite) announcement from the council. Are they really planning for the Music School to be in two separate buildings – with the Michael Fowler Centre in the middle? Why is this use not identified in the papers for Thursday’s council meeting? Will there be some amendments? Will progress on the Music School be delayed again? What’s being planned for the site of the Municipal Office Building after it’s been pulled down? Could it be new open space?

As councillors prepare for Thursday’s meeting, they’ll be puzzling about how the NZSO and VUW are welcoming something which the council hasn’t yet announced. Or has there been an agreement in principle, leaving the mayor without words to describe what they’ve done?


  1. Toni, 28. September 2021, 10:13

    Does anyone in the council have a clue about what is happening? This seems very similar to the debate regarding Frank Kitts Park and the Fale, when confusion reigned on all sides, and councillors ended up approving something without knowing how much space it would take up, or what it was going to look like. Not surprising that public confidence in council has reached an all-time low.

  2. Hel, 28. September 2021, 10:28

    What a major improvement on that shoddy car park with a temporary building on it. That whole area alongside the Michael Fowler Centre has never been attractive and is a significant path to the waterfront.

  3. Mickey Mouse, 28. September 2021, 11:17

    What’s the story with the University’s role here? I thought they were struggling financially without international students. Are they now fronting up to pay the rent for some of this elite building?
    As for disclosing the financial arrangement… this is public money, public land and is not in any way commercially sensitive information. The totality of the financial arrangements with Willis Bond for 175 years should be disclosed right now. Which councillors are going to ensure that?

  4. greenwelly, 28. September 2021, 13:58

    @Mickey Mouse, the Uni doesn’t appear to have money troubles.
    “Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University is redeveloping its marae precinct, and is attempting to create Aotearoa’s most sustainable educational facility. The project is expected to be completed by the start of 2024. It is expected to cost $35 million, $23 million of which is coming from the university’s capital budget and $12 million which will come through donations.”

  5. Harold Rodd, 28. September 2021, 14:05

    Mickey, they don’t want us to know what the deal is. And why is it 175 years?

  6. Ray Chung, 28. September 2021, 15:18

    The council must disclose what this lease agreement for 175 years is! There’s no commercial sensitivity at all as there are no other parties involved. The only reason why the WCC wouldn’t want to disclose this is because it’ll be the opposite of a commercial lease and more like a peppercorn lease. No wonder they agreed to pay in advance.

  7. Wellington Inc, 28. September 2021, 16:12

    Is this another building where the private developer makes a return at the ratepayers’ expense? What will the city council’s role be in the national music centre? The fact it’s a good looking building on an empty space is beside the point. So is the convention centre. [The council has said it is a partner in the music centre, with the NZSO and VUW. The music centre was to occupy two council buildings – the Town Hall and the Municipal Office Building; maybe the council contribution will now be only the Town Hall, with Willis Bond (a fourth partner?) providing the second building, on council land of course.]

  8. Kara, 28. September 2021, 16:19

    If the building does go ahead it had better have very good seismic isolation underneath. [Iona Pannett says: “Willis Bond plans to use base isolators to help protect the building and its occupants in significant earthquakes and to raise the ground floors to cope with rising sea levels due to climate change.” ]

  9. Smug Hermit, 28. September 2021, 18:25

    I love that comment “raise the ground floors to cope with rising sea levels due to climate change.” What have they envisaged, Wellington becoming the Venice of the South Pacific? Although that might be why they have the 175 year lease, they can bail out on it after the sea rises.

  10. AJ, 28. September 2021, 22:30

    I bet Willis Bond or their building partners LT McGuinness will be doing up the Central Library!

  11. Henry Filth, 29. September 2021, 3:38

    Why have a building at all? Stick it in grass and add a few trees and a playground.

    Call it Frank Kitts Park South.

  12. Mickey mouse, 29. September 2021, 10:26

    There’s a big, major sewage holding tank or something like that underneath this site. Can anybody clarify the specifics? With a building on top? And also ‘Piazza’ (as described by the Council) on top which the Council, not the developer, pays for according to the officer report.

  13. Conor, 29. September 2021, 12:39

    They should just sell that site in an open tender or auction, and use the proceeds for Te Ngakau. Could put a caveat that the ground floor has to be open to the public.

  14. J Chris Horne, 29. September 2021, 15:24

    Oh dear! Another ghastly, uninspiring, glass-walled box, this time on the Michael Fowler Centre car-park. Whether it is to be built for the offices of commercial enterprises, or flash flats for the wealthy, [or classrooms and offices for the music centre- Ed] it’ll be an eyesore on our city’s skyline for decades to come. Just like the awful, characterless, glass-walled “horse-float” built by the same developer, Willis Bond, on Site 10 opposite the NZ Post Office building on Waterloo Quay.

  15. Henry Filth, 30. September 2021, 5:46

    Build a fale inside a Chinese garden?

  16. Jim the Yimby, 30. September 2021, 8:30

    J.Chris – did you know that the Site 10 building was supposed to have a roof garden and a large open public space on the ground floor in the original proposal? Unfortunately a special interest group opposed it on the bounds that it was a few metres over height. These items were then cut to make the building lower and still make it financial viable. A real shame.
    As for the MF car park – a new building would be preferably over a carpark (offers the city nothing). Still two early to be critical of the design as it is still in the early days. maybe wait until the use has been confirmed and design submitted for RC?

  17. Peter, 30. September 2021, 10:07

    Jim the Yimby – Did you for half a minute expect there would be a public garden on top of the Site 10 building? If so, you would be a dreamer. How many times have you frequented the public space on the other waterfront building that used the same ploy to gain acceptance. Probably none, as the public was locked out as soon as was able. As for the public space at ground level, it seems to be as originally planned. A bit like the expansive public use of the Clyde Quay Wharf project.

  18. Jim the Yimby, 30. September 2021, 11:12

    We will never know now will we Peter? I spend most of my time on the waterfront around the space in front of the buildings – and i would guess that’s where the majority of people spend their time too – in the gallerys, cafes and bars. Especially in our lovely windy weather. Clyde Quay certainly could have better public engagement on the ground floor – but it is still better than a dilapidated shed and swath of asphalt.


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