Council eyes developers' dollars

BIG REVAMP: Impressions of what public space around Civic Square could look like as part of a $100m plan to strengthen ...
ATHFIELD ARCHITECTS

BIG REVAMP: Impressions of what public space around Civic Square could look like as part of a $100m plan to strengthen buildings, including the Town Hall.

Prime public land will be offered to private developers in Wellington to help bankroll a $100 million revamp of Civic Square, including the long-delayed earthquake strengthening of Wellington Town Hall.

Wellington City Council has unveiled plans to turn the Town Hall into a "music hub" that will become a recording facility and permanent home to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as part of the revamp.

But current budgets have less than half that amount available, so the council plans to offer public land to developers for century-long leases, with half the Michael Fowler Centre car park, Jack Ilott Green, and the Municipal Office Building up for grabs.

An artist's impression of a planned upgrade to the corridor between the Michael Fowler Centre and Town Hall.
ATHFIELD ARCHITECTS

An artist's impression of a planned upgrade to the corridor between the Michael Fowler Centre and Town Hall.

However, even the profit from the leases, rent and extra rates on new buildings is not expected to cover the cost, with a further $23m shortfall in funding still expected for the 10-year plan.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the impact on rates would be small, and was expected to be within the planned average increase of 3.95 per cent a year in the next decade. The move comes after earthquake strengthening of the Town Hall was halted earlier this year when the budget blew out from $43.5 million to $60m.

Under this proposal, the Town Hall will be strengthened with piles and base isolation. The existing auditorium will remain and the building will be fitted out with recording studios and control rooms, allowing it to become the home of the NZSO and Orchestra Wellington. The building has been reported as having world-class acoustics and has been used for film scores in the past, including The Hobbit.

The council chamber would be retained. The Civic Administration Building and Library would also be strengthened, costing $17m, and all council staff shifted into those buildings, with a $14m office refit reducing the amount of space per worker from 18 square metres to 13 sq m.

The Municipal Office Building would be rented out and a further $10m would be spent on revamping public spaces, including opening up the ground floors of office buildings for cafes and shops.

Project manager Ian Pike said the plan was a good way to meet the "massive financial challenge" the precinct represented.

Wade-Brown said progress on the planned convention centre near Te Papa freed up the Town Hall for other uses, and a musical hub was a great use of the space.

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"We're going to have an excellent music centre and revitalised civic heart to the city."

NZSO chief executive Christopher Blake said the Town Hall would be a "vibrant home for the NZSO". Because the orchestra toured, the hall would still be available for public use, while also acting as a cultural hub for the city, he said.

There was also an option for Victoria University to relocate its music school to the Municipal Office Building. Professor Deborah Willis, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, said discussions were in the "very early stages" but it could be a chance to strengthen the connection between students and the NZSO.

Property developer Ian Cassels, who had questioned the need to keep the Town Hall in the past, said he was "guardedly optimistic" about the plan. "It's good to see the council thinking about income rather than expense." Both parcels of land would be appealing to developers, and he would be keen to look at them, he said.

Jack Ilott Green has been suggested for development before but retained as green space after public outcry. Councillor Iona Pannett, the buildings portfolio leader, is among those who have opposed private development building on public land, but said yesterday that, "on balance", the proposal was a good one.

Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce president John Milford said it sounded like "an innovative plan that would fit right into Wellington's music culture".

"But it's an awful lot of money and we would need to look at the detail of the cost of strengthening the Town Hall and see a robust business case for the whole plan before lending it our full support."

THE PLANS

Civic SquareRevamp the public space costing $10m to cover as many of the following projects as possible in the next 10 years

- Possible public use of the ground floor of the Civic Administration Building

- Possible creation of bar/cafe space and retail space on the ground floor of the Municipal Office Building

- A partially enclosed Cuba Lane between the Town Hall and the Michael Fowler Centre

- Upgraded space between the Central Library and City Gallery

- New Harris St entrance to the City Gallery

- Reconfigure the courtyard bounded by Harris St, the library and the City Gallery.

Town Hall: Carry out $60 million worth of strengthening, bringing it up from 25 per cent of the building code to 77 per cent. The building will be turned into a national music hub, housing the NZSO, Orchestra Wellington, and possibly Te Kokiri New Zealand School of Music. 

Civic Administration Building and library: Strengthening work with a combined budget of $17 million. The buildings are 40 per cent (CAB building) and 44 per cent (library) of the building code and will be lifted to 80 per cent and 70 per cent respectively. All council staff will be based in a hot-desk environment, with a refit costing $14 million.

Municipal Office Building: Strengthening work to cost about $12 million. Rated at 47 per cent of building code, to be lifted to 67 per cent. Building to be leased out for offices, music school or turned into a hotel, with tenant expected to pick up the strengthening bill.

Capital E: Empty due to its 22 per cent earthquake risk rating. Estimated cost to bring up to 66 per cent is $5.7 million. Strengthening work on hold pending business case. 

Michael Fowler Centre: About half the site to be offered for 99-year ground lease. District plan allows for buildings up to 27 metres tall on the site.

Jack Ilott Green: To be offered for 99-year ground lease. District plan allows for buildings up to 27 metres tall on the site. 

 - The Dominion Post

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