WCC to vote on $6.9m conference centre

KATIE CHAPMAN
WELLINGTON REPORTER
Last updated 15:46 24/10/2012

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Whether a $6.9 million plan to convert TSB Bank Arena and Shed 6 into a conference centre gets the green light will be decided tonight.

Positively Wellington Venues remains confident the Wellington City Council will support the project - despite it failing to garner support last week.

At a strategy and policy committee meeting on Thursday councillors voted to ditch the plan, which would have created a temporary replacement venue while the town hall is out of service for earthquake strengthening.

The decision followed revelations the arena, neighbouring Shed 6 and the wharf piles required earthquake strengthening - at a cost of $2.9m - for the development to proceed.

That was on top of the $4m bill to convert the buildings.

Officers warned that not doing the work could put Wellington's ability to host the World of WearableArt in jeopardy, and the city's economy could lose up to $24m a year - $15m from WOW and $9m from conferences and events held in the town hall.

Councillors were given four options: do nothing; separate the two buildings without earthquake strengthening Shed 6 and the wharf ($875,000); separate and strengthen the buildings without adopting the replacement venue plan ($2.9m); and full strengthening work plus adopting the replacement venue plan ($6.9m).

The committee voted 7 to 6 in favour of the $875,000 option, after the WOW issue was labelled a ''red herring'' and many councillors argued conferences could be facilitated elsewhere.

But others argued the the council risked losing its footing in the conference market if it didn't continue with the plan.

Despite the decision, at least two councillors who voted against the project - Andy Foster and John Morrison - indicated they could be convinced to change their minds if questions about the viability of the project were answered.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown voted for the project, but also indicated her vote could change and two councillors were absent.

The final vote on the matter will be held at a full council meeting tonight.

Today, Wellington Venues chief executive Glenys Coughlan said she was ''optimistic'' the project would be supported.

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They had had a number of one-on-one meetings with councillors to talk them through the business case, she said.
''We have has an opportunity just to have discussions with different councillors and present to them some of the answers to questions that were raised at last week's debate.''

It would be a ''retrograde step'' for Wellington if the project didn't go ahead, because there were no other facilities in Wellington that could cater to large scale conferences, meaning the city would lose that business and the opportunity to attract more, she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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