Wellington Scoop

Hey big spenders

by Lindsay Shelton
Plans for more big spending are being thrown around by our elected representatives this morning.

Fran Wilde is resurrecting the idea of Wellington building a sixth concert venue – one that would hold 12,000 people. She must be aware of how seldom it would be used. And how it would quickly become an extravagant white elephant.

She thinks it should be looked at as a priority. But she qualifies her enthusiasm.

“I have no idea how it would be funded or where it would be built.”

Dave Burgess reports in the DomPost that she doesn’t agree with the Hutt City Council proposal to build a boutique stadium at the Petone Rec.

“Without a business case it wouldn’t go anywhere. There is no feasibility study, there is no business case that I know of.”

Which raises the question of how any business case could be prepared to justify the cost of constructing 12,000-seat concert venue in Wellington. How many mega-groups exist in the world who would want to come to Wellington to occupy such a space? How many mega-groups would have the potential to sell 12,000 expensive tickets in Wellington?

Fran has no doubt noticed that there’ve been changes in ticket sales recently. The Sevens, and Homegrown – which are accustomed to selling out – both failed to sell all their tickets this year. Only WoW remains confident of increasing its sales, with 8000 more seats on sale this year. And it doesn’t need a new venue.

The city council, however, has no doubts. A 12,000-seat venue is one of its “eight big ideas.” It says

We need facilities able to cater for … 12,000 music fans.

So where’s the business case giving specifics of the “need,” and where’s the list of top-rating groups who’ve told the council that they’re eager to come here once the new building has been completed, and paid for.

Also in the big spending category, the city council is investigating a multi-million dollar upgrade of Westpac Stadium. Dave Burgess reports that the council’s sport and recreation spokesperson Paul Eagle has asked for the investigation. He says

the Phoenix owners shouldn’t be tempted by carrots being dangled in front of them by Lower Hutt. It would be irresponsible of us to let other cities duplicate some of the infrastructure we’ve already got … Let us first exhaust the possibilities [of keeping Phoenix in Wellington].

He says retractable seating and the installation of a roof should be included in the investigation.

Could a business case be prepared for the cost of putting a roof over the stadium? If it happened, you’d expect that there’d be no need to keep talking about a 12,000 seat concert venue.

Of course, the Hutt people are talking about 12,000 seats if they can find the money to build their stadium in Petone. And if they can afford a roof, will they be hoping to book the Rolling Stones? Or Bruno Mars?


  1. Rufus Sixsmith, 6. March 2014, 10:49

    Perhaps Cr Eagle should familiarise himself with the work that the Stadium Trust has already done (published July 2012):


    Focus areas for our forward planning
    …. it is worth looking at what was not achievable:
    • Installing a roof
    • Building a 1000 seat dining room
    • Reinstating the Thorndon overbridge
    • Attaching an indoor concert arena.
    Without going into too much detail it is worth outlining the results of our exploration of adding a roof, given this has received a great deal of comment.
    The Trust has undertaken some high level assessments into costs, feasibility and benefits of putting a roof on the Stadium.
    The particular challenges are:
    • The Stadium is built of lightweight concrete and cannot support any additional structures, therefore either additional foundation work would have to be done, or a separate structure built to support a roof
    • There is a height restriction in the Thorndon area. The Stadium has a resource consent that permits us to build to only 26 metres. There would be many resource consent issues and potential problems with the neighbours in building a structure
    covering the Stadium
    • The existing light towers need to be at the current height mainly due to cricket requirements
    • Any roof would need to be above the light towers
    • Any roof construction needs to provide airflow within the Stadium so grass can grow
    • It is likely that there would be serious wind loadings on a roof that would create major additional costs to resolve.
    Some high level estimates for costs, from our consultants, have varied between $60 and $80 million for construction of the roof. This is beyond the financial resources of the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust and the local councils would need to assist in the funding of such a project.
    …. It is the opinion of the Trust that at a cost of $60–$80m there would need to be a debate on whether that money would be better spent on funding a purpose built indoor arena. A covered Stadium would not attract the smaller 10,000 –12,000 seated concerts, which are the majority of concerts that are currently touring and bypassing Wellington.

  2. andy foster, 6. March 2014, 22:14

    Lindsay – I think it is a fair question. I would hope that any decision to invest what would be a very large sum of money in an indoor concert venue would only be made after robust assessment of the potential economic benefit against the costs of construction and operation. One thing making such an analysis somewhat easier than many such crystal ball projections is that it is easy to look at who’s toured NZ in the recent past, crowd sizes, to consider only those that couldn’t fit into existing venues etc. If it doesn’t stack up – the logical decision would be not to build it. If it does then obviously Council(s) would need to consult on the proposal so the wider public could further test the concept.

    This is one of the 8 projects that to me looks as if it will be more challenging in terms of passing that assessment successfully – we are only talking about acts you can’t get into the TSB, and those that would be willing to come to Wellington as well as Auckland.

    I’d like also to recall the fierce debate a few years ago when the indoor sports centre was being considered. At the time I and the group I was working with promoted as our first preference a concert-capable sports venue at the Stadium or Railyards/Port., to be run in tandem with the TSB for community sport at times when there were major concerts/indoor sports events.
    A multi purpose venue would have cost considerably more than the single purpose community sports venue eventually built in Kilbirnie – however we said it would save us possibly $100 million in capital costs alone by avoiding ending up with multiple venues – for community sport, concerts and conventions.

  3. John, 7. March 2014, 23:02

    So Andy – I agree with you that the ASB centre was a very bad idea – which begs the question, Why did Andy Foster ultimately support the $55million turkey when you voted for the Kilbirnie indoor venue ?
    As an elected representative entrusted with ratepayers’ funds, it IS possible to say “no” when a poorly thought out proposal is put up, especially one which is too far away for half of Wellington to access, and essentially designed only for outdoor sports to be played indoors.
    As the swing voter who voted it in, the responsibility for this turkey will forever be laid at your feet…..

  4. KB, 9. March 2014, 21:32

    The Kilbirnie indoor sports centre was the most ludicrous waste of money in Wellington for at least a decade.

    Any talk of a new 12,000 seat concert venue should start with seeing how the sports centre could be retrofitted to perform this function.

  5. andy foster, 10. March 2014, 7:46

    John – I certainly did not ‘ultimately support’ it – I said ‘no’

  6. lindsay, 11. March 2014, 9:51

    Irresponsible. The city council has tweeted today:
    Growth agenda for Wellington includes construction of bigger conference and concert facilities in the central city.
    But how can the council be announcing this, when (as Andy Foster has written above) there has been no robust assessment of the potential economic benefits against the enormous cost of construction.

  7. CC, 11. March 2014, 14:07

    More importantly, where Lindsay? From the comments of the Property Council NZ representative at the Council Transport and Urban Development Committee ‘consultation’ today, it seems Wellington is so strapped for land that the only solution for providing office space is to privatise more of the public property on the waterfront. Is there a secret supply of land for the bigger, brighter and bigger conference and concert facilities that would remain empty for much of the time?

  8. James, 12. March 2014, 22:49

    There are eight ‘big ideas’ on the web-page linked from the article.

    I think that the goal is to create optimism and momentum.

    Depending on which businesses, I can easily see ‘open for business’ fighting against ‘liveable city’. Together, they cross the government’s RMA proposals, which I see as an attempt to speed up the liquidation of the earth.

    ‘better transport’ is an item of active controversy in these pages.

    I guess I see ‘film museum’ and ‘tech precinct’ as things best done by private cooperation, with low-cost encouragement, if that, from the council.

    I wonder what local government could do less of, that would improve things.