Wellington Scoop

New financing plans for strengthening Town Hall and improving Civic Square

civic square from the air
Photo: WCC

News from WCC
Wellington’s Town Hall, famed for its world-class acoustics, will be home for a National Music Hub under an ambitious plan to breathe new life into the Capital’s civic square precinct.

Under the proposal by the Wellington City Council in partnership with Victoria University of Wellington and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, music, culture and performance would be centre stage of the revitalised and strengthened Town Hall and Michael Fowler Centre complexes.

“Our plan presents an exciting opportunity to make Civic Square attractive, safe and potentially the heart of a nationally-significant music centre, without undue burden on ratepayers,” said Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

The Civic Precinct Master Plan, which would help fund nearly $100 million worth of necessary quake-strengthening of buildings around Civic Square, has been outlined to Wellington’s Mayor and City Councillors.

The estimated $96 million cost of work to strengthen the Town Hall, Central Library, the Civic Administration Building (CAB) and, possibly, the former Capital E site would be offset by the proceeds from proposed ground-leases and development of part of the Michael Fowler Centre car park, the Council’s existing Municipal Office Building (MOB) and the Jack Ilott site (on the corner of Jervois Quay and Harris Street).

Mayor Wade-Brown says that when the tenders came in for strengthening the Town Hall in 2013, the Council needed to take a more creative approach to retaining the much-loved building without blowing the budget.

“The costs were well beyond the budget so we needed to take a more comprehensive approach,” she says. “Now we have a very exciting proposal to complete the Square, attract more people and ensure our best music venues are fully utilised.

“Once strengthened, the Town Hall would house a National Music Hub and Council has engaged with Victoria University and the NZ Symphony Orchestra about how we ensure the world-class acoustics of the Town Hall auditorium are put to their best use.

“The recent Convention Centre decision frees up the Town Hall and MFC for a focus on music and performance, and this would also build our ability for recording film scores, as was done for the Hobbit trilogy.”

NZSO CEO and Victoria University Pro Vice Chancellor for the Humanities discuss the Town Hall plans

Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer, Portfolio Leader for Arts and Culture, says there are many positives to the proposal which is an exciting fit for the Capital.

“Wellington can transform the Civic Square precinct and turn the Town Hall strengthening costs into an exciting opportunity for all Wellingtonians,” he said.

“Wellington is New Zealand’s arts and culture capital, this project underlines our commitment to music and the arts, and the contribution they make to our sense of place, our identity and our economy.”

Under the proposal, the existing City Council Chamber would be retained for political and public use.

The proposal envisages up to $10 million be spent on upgrading Civic Square itself, and its approaches from Mercer, Wakefield and Harris streets, over the next 10 years. The work could involve ‘opening up’ the ground-floor levels of the surrounding buildings, including the City Gallery.

Under the Precinct reorganisation proposal, some 800 Council headquarters staff could be accommodated in the revamped CAB and the two top office floors of the Library building. New workplace design, coupled with mobile IT technology, could allow the staff to collectively occupy less space than they do now. This has the potential to free up the seven-storey MOB building.

The proposal would become a part of the Council’s 2015-2025 Long Term Plan (LTP) and be subject to public consultation and votes by the full Council.


The successful signing of ground leases or other financial arrangements relating to the three sites around the Precinct could raise up to $25 million and significantly contribute to the funding of the necessary strengthening of the Town Hall and the other public buildings.

The budget to only strengthen the Town Hall would likely cost around $18 million in the LTP.

“However, an extra $12.5 million could provide a ‘whole of precinct’ solution that would vastly improve Civic Square as a public space and make the surrounding buildings safe and secure.

A number of developers have made offers and expressed interest in a range of proposals and uses for the buildings and sites around Civic Square over the years.

Proposed public space improvements

civic square

Civic Square completed 1992, ground area 6160 sq m.

1. Cuba Lane – installing a high-level canopy to partially close in, and weatherproof, the accessway between the Town Hall and the Michael Fowler Centre.

2. Town Hall Arcade – creating access from Wakefield Street to Civic Square between the Town Hall and the Municipal Office Building (MOB).


3. MOB ground floor – possible creation of bar/café space on the Civic Square side and retail/other commercial space on the Wakefield Street frontage.

4. CAB ground floor – ‘open up’ the ground floor interior space to provide better visual links between Wakefield Street and the Square and for more commercial and public use.

5. Mercer Street entrance (site of the ongoing demolition of the Portico) – reconfigure the currently blank façade of the Central Library with glazing and an entrance to a new City Council service centre or other facilities in the building.


6. Space between the Central Library and City Gallery – upgrade and update this area, possibly with more planting and sculptures, to make it a more attractive thoroughfare.

7. New Harris Street entrance to the City Gallery.

8. Reconfigure the courtyard bounded by Harris Street, the Library and the City Gallery.

Town Hall – Completed 1901, heritage-listed.

· Rated at 25% of new building standard in terms of earthquake resistance.

· Estimated cost of strengthening with base-isolators and deep piles has risen to an estimated $60 million from $ 45.7 million.

· Council officers were told to review options for the building earlier this year after it became clear that ground conditions (reclaimed land) meant foundation costs would rise significantly.

· If approval is given, the strengthening project would be re-tendered as we want to take advantage of the latest improvements in quake-strengthing technology and engineering, many based on the changes in thinking following the Christchurch quakes.

· Intention is to strengthen to between 77% and 100% of new building code.

· Once strengthened, it is proposed the Town Hall would house a National Music Hub. Council has engaged with Victoria University and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra about how the world-class acoustics of the Town Hall auditorium are put to best use

Municipal Office Building – Completed in 1951, seven floors, 6200 square metres of net lettable floorspace.

· Not heritage-listed.

· It is proposed the City Council vacate the building and that it be made available for private development under a long-term ground lease arrangement.

· This proposal would be subject to the requirements of any organisation that occupies the Town Hall – ie whether that organisation needs the MOB for extra space.

· rated at 41% of the new building standard in terms of earthquake resistance.

· Estimated $12 million cost to achieve 67% of NBS.

· It could potentially be redeveloped as offices, apartments, or hotel space with ground-floor retail or other commercial use.

Civic Administration Building – Completed 1991, five floors, 6300 square metres of net lettable floorspace

· Rated at 40% of new building standard in terms of earthquake resistance.

· Estimated $6 million cost to strengthen to 80% of NBS.

Central Library – Completed 1991, four floors, 7300 sq m of floorspace (4900 sq m in library, 2400 sq m of office space on third and fourth floors).

· Rated at 44% NBS in terms of quake resistance.

· Estimated $11 million cost to strengthen to 70% of NBS.

· Relocate Council committee meeting rooms and service centre to the Library.

· Locate more Council staff on the third and fourth floors.

Capital E – Completed 1991, 4400 sq m of net lettable floorspace (currently vacant).

· Rated at 22% of NBS in terms of quake resistance.

· Estimated $5.7 million cost to strengthen to 66% of NBS.

· Put strengthening work on hold until use and business case completed.


Jack Ilott Green site – Opened in 1990s following the demolition of buildings on the site.

· Ground area 1760 sq m.

· District Plan allows for a 27-metre building height as of right on the site.

· Potential for offices, hotel or apartments with ground-level commercial activity.

· Public access to a green ‘roof garden’.

Michael Fowler Centre car park

· Ground area 4400 sq m total – up to 2000 sq m ‘buildable’.

· District Plan allows for a 27-metre building height as of right on the site.

Electrical and mechanical considerations

Depending on agreed arrangements and if, for example, the MOB building is taken over by a private owner or independent interests, the integrated services – including power supply, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning – to the buildings around Civic Square may have to separated and reorganised.

City Council workplace strategy

· The City Council currently houses about 800 staff in the MOB, CAB and Central Library – occupying about 15,300 sq m of floorspace.

· It is proposed that staff move out of the MOB and be consolidated in a strengthened and reconfigured CAB and Library – and possibly in ‘third-party’ premises in the CBD or elsewhere in the city.

· Council managers have been closely looking at modern office design and techniques, including flexible working and digital technology to enable staff to be more mobile and less attached to particular floors or offices.

· City Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery says the overall cost of the office-space reorganisation depends on what option the elected members and managers agree on in terms of the overall Civic Square Precinct proposals.