LeviathanDecember 24, 2014
Convention Centre debacle
It was too soon to shut down shop and say Merry Christmas, it seems. The debacle that is currently underway on the foreshore is too much – it’s hard to believe that the process could have gone so badly wrong, so quickly. Let’s recap:
1. The Convention Centre was to have been on land between Cable and Wakefield St, nestled in between apartment buildings and enjoying a great view of the side of Te Papa. As Max said at the time – not a good view, and one that was a strange choice for Hilton, who like to have expensive views to go with their expensive hotels.
2. The Hilton Hotel tried for many years to have a hotel on the Outer Tee part of the Queens Wharf, producing millions of dollars for lawyers fees while they fought the tenacious Waterfront Watch in the Environment Court. They lost. The Outer Tee remains undeveloped.
3. Mark Dunajtschik, a developer based in Wellington, proposed that the Convention Centre for Cable St would have carparking on the ground floor, convention centre overlooking Te Papa on the first floor, and 165 hotel rooms up above. Plans were never published. And now, we find out that apparently, the land sale to Dunajtschik was never actually sewn up. His credibility must be at a low ebb.
4. But suddenly, miraculously, Dunajtschik claims to have dibs on a new site. This site is on the waterfront, on a disused wharf, the “Interislander” wharf, that has sat empty for 10 years since the Top Cat ferry departed to fight in the Gulf wars. Currently the site of a large ugly empty shed. Also: the nearest wharf to the ill-fated Outer Tee, where Hilton wanted to go previously.
5. So, the owners of the land in Cable St have got a better offer for their land? That is the same piece of land that has had a used car yard on it for the last few years, and even that has gone bust? And they didn’t want to sell to Dunajtschik because – why? I think it now becomes obvious that: A – Hilton never wanted to go to Cable St, and B – Dunajtschik never actually had any legal agreement for the land. The advantages in siting the Convention Centre down town, in the centre of the entertainment district, only a block away from Courtenay Place – all those things are now crumbled to dust.
6. So, Hilton and Dunajtschik think that building on the wharf will be possible (Mark McGuinness warns: not an easy option). And that Resource Consent will be achievable with few delays. Yes, well, Good Luck with that!
7. No doubt, as Mike O’Brien and the architects at HBO+EMBT are finding out, frantically working through their planned Christmas holidays, working on a plan for a convention centre on a wharf is a bit different from a convention centre on dry land. I’m not sure if they will try and build an underground car park – LT McGuiness showed that it could be done down at Clyde Quay, but it was a most difficult project, pouring concrete slabs suspended above the tide by only a few centimetres. Result: very, very expensive car parks.
8. Ground floor will still have to be open to the public, ie largely hospitality purposes. Bars, restaurants, etc. it won’t stand a chance of getting through Resource Consent without that. Actually, in reality, it won’t stand much chance of getting through Resource Consent at all, but thats another matter. I suspect Waterfront Watch will be fighting this project all the way as well. Dunajtschik clearly has not learnt that people of this city don’t like to be fucked around with by him and his big money friends.
9. Actual Convention Centre rooms will have to go at First floor level, about 5-6m up in the air. Good views, except that people in a Convention Centre are meant to be inside, listening to talking heads go on and on about something interminably boring. Inside. Blank walls. Perhaps they will get a verandah. And remember the complicated servicing arrangements for getting endless trucks to the doors of the Hilton on the Tee? It is going to be even more tricky to do that at the thin pointy end of a wharf, and there are going to be even more trucks needed to service a Convention Centre.
10. Actual Hilton Hotel will need to sit up top of it all, reaching into the sky. While it won’t look like the previous Hilton on Cable St proposal (because it will be double sided, not single), nor will it look like the previous Hilton on the Outer Tee proposal (different architects), it will sit up probably at least 6 floors above the convention centre (6 floors, 10 rooms each side of a central corridor, big suites on top floor – about 160 rooms all up), meaning that the whole building will be at least 8 stories high. And this will be directly in front of the Site 10 building that is due for a final decision on Resource Consent some time early in 2015. The developers of Site 10 are unlikely to be particularly excited about that. Considering that the height limit for any building allowed on the Wellington Waterfront is 0.0m (meaning every single building taller than zero needs a Resource Consent), then expect delays.
So – in summary, overall then, what chances of success? In terms of speedy solutions – they are dreaming if they think this will fly through the Consenting process. Who actually owns the land? Certainly not Dunajtschik – can he ever be trusted to do a deal again? Patrick McCoombs says, in comments on a posting in Scoop, that the ownership of the land is likely to be leasehold and fraught with difficulties.
Watch this space.