Hall to pay: Repair bill balloons to $90m
The deal is finally done and Wellington Town Hall looks set to reopen in June 2021 – but its restoration is now going to cost ratepayers an extra $30 million.
Wellington City Council plans to spend about $90m strengthening the 113-year-old venue – which was declared earthquake-prone in 2009 – to bring it up to 100 per cent of building code through base isolation.
The town hall, considered to have some of the best acoustics in the world, was shut in November 2013 for strengthening. But that work halted three months later when the project’s cost ballooned from $43m to $60m.
As well as making the town hall Wellington’s seat of local government again, this latest plan will see the venue become a music hub in conjunction with Victoria University and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO).
However, the council’s new course of action has raised questions about whether Wellington ratepayers are getting value for money, three years on.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the increased costs to restore the category one heritage-listed building reflected a higher contingency for the project, a buoyant construction market and continued seismic uncertainty after the November 14 earthquake.
‘‘It’s been clear for a while that the previous plan wasn’t going to be enough to see this building restored.
‘‘It’s not going to become cheaper in the future and building a replacement venue would be much more expensive and lack the tradition, heritage and prestige of the town hall.’’
Lengthy negotiations with Victoria University and NZSO were the main reason it had taken so long to get an alternative plan in place, he said.
The two tenants will spend about $174m fitting out the music hub. The council will also receive $1m annually over 25 years to cover future costs.
‘‘The impact of this project has been factored into this year’s Annual Plan, and this year’s portion can be met within the 3.3 per cent average proposed rate increase.’’
The total cost will be spread over the next 50 to 100 years to minimise the impact on rates.
A plan for the hall’s earthquake strengthening and design work will be presented to the council next week before going out for public consultation.
Deputy mayor Paul Eagle said previous consultation with the public had shown Wellingtonians loved the building and wanted to see it open again.
‘‘The town hall being closed has left a huge hole in the performance space in our city, and I’m excited we have the opportunity to restore it.’’
An NZSO spokesman said the hub and a restored town hall would enable the orchestra to continue to perform and record to the highest possible standard.
Property developer Ian Cassels, who labelled the town hall a ‘‘white elephant’’ back when the council proposed spending only $43m on the site, said he still had concerns about the project.
‘‘It’s remarkable. It’s not just the $90m building, it’s the $20m worth of land under it. Is this really the best thing to do on behalf of the ratepayer? I’m not so sure.’’
He suggested a better use of the site could include building a hotel, which would rake in more money than the rent for the music hub.
Cassels also questioned whether the income from planned activities would provide a rent suitable for a $110m investment.
‘‘Usually a $90m building would be fantastic but this isn’t exactly anything special. It’s been strengthened four times already.’’
New Zealand Festival executive director Meg Williams said while it was a challenge for the arts festival to have a regular venue out of action, its organisers supported the council’s commitment to restoring and refurbishing the building.
An artist’s impression of how the restored Wellington Town Hall might look. Mayor Justin Lester Wellington’s Town Hall on Wakefield St looks set to reopen in June 2021 after $90 million is spent strengthening the site.