Quake shadow over WOW

KATIE CHAPMAN AND KERRY MCBRIDE
Last updated 05:00 16/10/2012

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Just as the World of WearableArt signs on for nine more years, it has emerged that Wellington's ability to host the event could be in jeopardy if earthquake-strengthening work is not done urgently.

The capital's only suitable venue may not be able to host WOW, and the economy could lose up to $24 million a year if $2.9m of strengthening work is not done to separate the TSB Bank Arena from Shed 6, and strengthen wharf piles, a new report warns.

The revelation came yesterday as Dame Suzie Moncrieff and Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown announced that WOW would stay in the capital for at least nine years as part of a new deal.

Wellington City Council has already earmarked $4m to convert TSB Bank Arena and Shed 6 into a temporary venue while the town hall is closed for two years for earthquake strengthening.

Now the latest council report reveals those buildings are also at risk.

Any building that meets 33 per cent or less of the national building standard is considered earthquake-prone.

New seismic reports show the arena is at 38 per cent, but part of its foundation is shared with Shed 6, which is below the standard. The wharf piles meet only 20 per cent.

WOW is held in the TSB Bank Arena and uses Shed 6 as a rehearsal and backstage space.

If strengthening work is not done, the venues' ability to host WOW - which brings 30,000 visitors and contributes about $15m to the economy each year - would "be in jeopardy", bringing the potential economic loss to $24m a year, the council officers' report says.

It sets out options that range from doing nothing, through to separating the two buildings and strengthening the piles beneath.

The recommended option is full strengthening work, costing $2.9m, and continuing at the same time with the $4m replacement venue plan, with the work to be completed in time for the town hall closure next year.

WOW chief executive Meg Matthews said the company had a "plan B" rehearsal space in Miramar.

"If we have to implement plan B, we will still need to use Shed 6 as a venue during the actual show season."

Councillor Justin Lester said the temporary venue was unnecessary when Shed 6 was hardly used, and the TSB Bank Arena could be separated from the weak piles for only $875,000.

Other sites could be used while the town hall was out of action, and WOW could rehearse elsewhere.

The only other regular users of the Shed 6 site were the hosts of Illuminate paint parties, he said. "The $7m question is are we willing to spend that much on hosting paint parties?"

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Events promoter Phil Sprey said the council should do the strengthening, but ditch the temporary venue because it would not add to the Wellington events scene.

"They have to do what is essential, but any more than that is just throwing money down a black hole."

But councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer said pushing ahead with the strengthening and temporary venue was a "no-brainer".

The merits of a temporary building were debated during the long-term plan process, and the reasons stood, because other venues could not cater for the size of conferences the town hall hosted.

"There is no alternative to Shed 6 in terms of venue replacement . . . This is a long-term consideration, it's a strategic consideration and economically it's a no-brainer and we must proceed."

Ms Wade-Brown said: "Safety is important, events are important. We'll work this through with WOW, we'll do what we have to do."

Positively Wellington Venues chief executive Glenys Coughlan said it would present new economic analysis figures to support the investment.

The report will go to the council's strategy and policy committee on Thursday.

CAPITAL SIGNS ON FOR NINE MORE YEARS

The World of WearableArt has signed a contract with Wellington City Council committing the show to the city until at least 2021.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the economic impact from WOW had been massive for the city, with 47,000 people - including 30,000 out-of-towners - seeing the show this year.

Figures for this year's show were not yet available, but a 2009 study estimated the show contributed $15.1 million to the city's economy. Funding for WOW would continue to be allocated through the council's major events fund, which also covered the rugby sevens and the new Aussie Rules agreement.

WOW founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff said she would stick with WOW and Wellington for as long as she could.

"I think it will make me about 72 by then, but as long as I'm still standing then I'll still be here. We are certainly committed to remaining here in Wellington."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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