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Ferry terminal or concert arena?

This week, Kings Wharf was mooted as one of two possible sites for a new ferry terminal. It’s also been proposed as the best site for a new indoor concert arena. LINDSAY SHELTON of  Wellington.Scoop looks at the options.

Only six days after the Regional Council announced that Kings Wharf had been chosen as one of two options for a new ferry terminal, the region’s mayors had a different idea – they decided that Kings Wharf would be the best site for a new indoor concert arena.

The mayors made their decision after receiving advice from a WCC report which strangely made no mention of the ferry terminal decision. But the WCC should have told them, as it is one of “five partners actively involved” in the search for a multi-user terminal for Cook Strait ferries.

Announcing the need to move the terminal to a new single facility, the Regional Council’s Roger Blakeley said it was a once in a lifetime opportunity:

“This is a huge opportunity for Wellington and the wider region. Creating a more efficient facility with increased capacity would ensure we can benefit from forecasts of substantial Cook-Strait growth, with passenger numbers expected to increase by 70 per cent by 2025 accompanied by higher freight volumes. Using port land more efficiently would enable other significant opportunities to be realised including the development of a new cruise ship terminal and enhancement of public access to the waterfront.”

All of which sounds like a far more productive use of Kings Wharf than a concert arena that would be empty and unused for most of the year, as it waited for occasional international stars with the potential to sell 12,000 tickets and who didn’t want to perform in any of our six other large venues.

(Westpac Stadium – which describes itself as New Zealand’s most utilised and well-attended stadium – was used for only 62 events in 2017, with few of them selling out its 34,000 seats.)

The mayors haven’t yet had to address the unknown costs, in their enthusiasm to build another concert venue. The WCC report told them that construction costs could be reasonably benchmarked – “but foundation and enabling costs cannot be estimated without more work.”

Mayor Justin Lester has mentioned $85m as the budgeted contribution from his city’s rates. However, announcing the arena site decision, he indicated that private companies are involved, though his statement did not name them:

“The arena could be the catalyst for a raft of new development in the area, with a mixture of commercial, retail and residential, both private and affordable. The precinct development would be required to off-set the costs of a new arena. The next step will be working with our partners on the land and looking at the precinct development options.”

He gave more information when talking to the Dominion Post, saying that the arena would be developed in a private-public partnership similar to Spark Arena in Auckland.

“I won’t go into names at the moment. We would go in with experienced promoters and venue operators, coupled with precinct development partners.”

Justin Lester will be well aware of his council’s financial commitments to some of the city’s other established and much-loved concert venues – $90m for strengthening the Town Hall (work was supposed to begin before the end of the year) and $30m for strengthening the St James, with the Opera House next in line for remedial work.

The mayor acknowledges that he knows about the plans for a new multi-use ferry terminal, and says “the [arena] planning work would be done in parallel.” It’s hard to believe, however, that an arena and a ferry terminal could co-exist on the same space, as Leviathan at eyeofthefish has convincingly pointed out:

“Up to six ships sailing twice a day – with millions of tonnes of freight from hundreds of trucks daily – mixing in with 12,000 Fans screaming at the latest teen heart-throb. I see a serious clash occurring.”

The PR people who came up with the illustration of the potential arena had no such worries. There’s no sign of a ferry terminal in their picture. Irrelevantly, however, they’ve added fireworks.

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