Wellington Scoop

Ignoring events, or supporting them

by Lindsay Shelton
The city council needs to broaden its view of the events that are important for Wellington.

In the council’s defensive press release about the failure of the Sevens (in spite of a considerable council subsidy), Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle says Wellington’s events scene is “humming” because of great events which he lists as …

Wellington on a Plate, LUX, Beervana, the Jazz Festival, Homegrown as well as tech festival Wellington X and recent major concerts like ACDC and Guns N’ Roses.

He should have spent more time preparing his list. WoW has been forgotten, as has one of the biggest events of the year – the annual film festival. Perhaps he’s unaware of the fact that the film festival sells more than 70,000 tickets every year.

And while his council says it wants big events to continue and grow, it has contrarily approved conversion of the film festival’s second most important venue, the Paramount, into a hotel. If this council-approved conversion goes ahead, the loss of the venue will result in the film festival being forced to reduce in size. Not a result that should be wanted by a council that claims to support big events.

As well as wanting to create new events, the council should equally be ensuring that the established ones – such as the film festival – are enabled to continue at full strength. And it should be ensuring that well-used public venues are helped to survive – the Paramount’s mid-size CBD auditorium is regularly used by dozens of community groups who will face problems of continuity if it closes. There’d be much less of a hum without the Paramount’s auditorium.

Then there are so many other city events that the Eagle list fails to acknowledge. The great range of nightly performances at Circa and Bats. The concerts by the NZSO and Orchestra Wellington and the annual chamber music season. The performances night after night at San Fran and Meow and Moon and Valhalla and the other music venues. The lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s on the Terrace. The return of concerts to the beautifully restored St Mary of the Angels.

Not forgetting the Big Sing – with 44 secondary school choirs, coming up again soon at the MFC. As its hard-working organisers say

it has developed a special position, with a supportive festival-like atmosphere amongst the entrants, and participation rates that would be unimaginable almost anywhere else.

And now comes news that the council is still pushing its idea of building a 10,000 seat arena for occasional big concerts. Mayor Lester claims this now has support from all the regional mayors. And he says the need is “obvious.” He doesnt provide any evidence of this. But WREDA has been asked to come up with “a report on a way forward” by August.

The City Council already owns all the capital’s big concert venues: the St James, the Opera House, the Town Hall (once it has been re-strengthened), the Michael Fowler Centre, Shed 6, and the TSB Arena (better known as the Events Centre, and recognised as a flawed space). Why does it want another one – that’s even bigger? Its ambition to build a venue for rock concerts has never been supported by any business plan. But the council has been claiming that occasional concerts will somehow lead to economic growth.

Before any planning begins, we should be shown some analysis of how many entrepreneurs would want to bring big-name entertainers to a new venue in Wellington after they’d sold out the biggest venues in Auckland. How many Wellingtonians would be willing and able to afford the high cost of the big ticket attractions? And how often? And for how much of the year would such a huge (and expensive) new venue be empty and dark?

Wellington entrepreneur Stewart McPherson of the Stetson Group warned in 2015 that such a building could become a white elephant. He said that Wellington audiences would rarely fill such a huge space:

“Is the market big enough? I would dispute it is. Even casting the net out to the lower North Island could leave a new arena struggling for customers…”

Instead of dreaming of white elephants, Wellington should be much more creative in using its existing venues, instead of allowing them to stay closed most of the time. The St James and the Opera House are both beautiful auditoriums, which are shamefully under-used. The Hannah Playhouse needs more bookings. Circa and Bats are proof of how such places should be alive and attracting audiences every night of the year. Not forgetting the magnificent Town Hall which the council seems content to keep closed for another five years. And not allowing the Paramount auditorium to be de-commissioned.

Read also:
: New arena a memorial for Ed Sheeran?


  1. Stadium supporter, 31. May 2017, 8:57

    A promoter on stuff a few days ago said it was a lack of a large indoor venue that caused concerts to bypass Wellington. He made no mention of population like the Stetson Group guy did.

    Wellington has hosted concerts with audiences larger than 12,000 in the past. It’s an attractive concert destination having a population of 500,000 in the region and 750,000 when you include the lower north Island (how big is Dunedin stadium’s population for 3xEd Sheeran concerts?) and being in the centre of New Zealand is a lot easier for regional people to get to rather than having to travel all the way up to the north or way down south. Plus has significantly more accommodation than other parts of New Zealand (apart from Auckland).

  2. Marion Leader, 31. May 2017, 10:55

    I have heard the then mayor was shocked when she was told that an officer had handed out a resource consent like this. How could it have happened?
    I have also heard in the last week that a Council officer has given resource consent for a big development in Kate Sheppard Place without knowing that it would overshadow a Heritage building next door.
    On the Paramount, Councillor Nicola Young says she “is always happy to have a dialogue with the community” about these resource consents. It might help if councillors got a grip on how they delegate officers with that much power.

  3. Hel, 31. May 2017, 19:47

    So Eagle didn’t mention every event on the calendar, perhaps because contrary to the view expressed in the article there is a strong programme. It is ludicrous to compare the existing city venues to a 10,000+ indoor arena, the closest comparison is the TSB Arena which is less than half the size and recognised for its poor acoustics. it is healthy to debate the question of whether the region needs an indoor arena but this article doesn’t contribute to that debate.

  4. Concerned Wellingtonian, 1. June 2017, 7:11

    Talking about the TSB Arena, its evacuation area is Frank Kitts Park, Will there be enough room for everybody from the TSB when the outdoor arena at Frank Kitts is wrecked and other stuff is locked up at night? Can our new MP for Rongotai tell us about this?

  5. Michael, 1. June 2017, 12:17

    It is time the council had a damn good look at exactly what their council officers are up to, and how much power they wield. Councillors also need to re-examine their existing properties to get a cohesive overview of what they have. Everything seems to be so adhoc and nothing seems to be approached in a well planned holistic manner.