The Eye of the Fish

May 21, 2009

On the Waterfront

It’s all go down on the waterfront this week: the news keeps flying thick and fast, and we just can’t keep up with the flow! But we’ll try: here’s a catch-up.

First there was the news that the Wharves were falling down – with DomPost giving that story more face time than the war against the Tamils – and a doleful looking Mr Pike lost in a field of rotting wharf timbers. It’s nice to have someone with a Fishy name like Pike in charge of the waterfront: it sounds like he’s in tune with the water and us Fishes. Apparently the old wharves like the Outer T and the Waterloo wharf have gone well past the end of their structural and economic lives, and the woodworm and barnacles have had a field day – there’s more barnacle than wood down there.

Then there was the quick follow up news to that – the Outer T is to have a competition after all. Hooray! At last! Democracy! Although, long time grumpy old-folks party Waterfront Watch is apparently suspicious of the Council’s motives. They’ve been moaning for years that the Council hasn’t had a competition, and now they’re moaning that the Council may just be going to have one. “Pauline Swann of Waterfront Watch says the criteria for the Outer-T design competition are so vague she doesn’t see how it’s even a competition.” reports the Capital Times.

“We really hope this is the sincere effort to consult with the public, but we have concerns… This proposal cannot be a so-called competition. No specific designs are required and there is incomplete information available on the costs of repiling. There is no commitment by the WCC or possibility of a winner.”

Despite Swann’s previous idea for the Outer T to be a Winter-Garden type greenhouse, which seems to me to be one of the more silly ideas, she does have a point here. To be frank: no one knows what to do with the Outer T, and now it is falling down and will either have to be repaired at great cost, or just closed off and left to rot. But quite some time ago the Waterfront Framework said that the Outer T should be the subject of a competition, and although the Council seemed curiously reluctant to let the public have any say there: at last there will be. Details soon. Hot off the Press? They’re so hot we’re not even sure we’re meant to have them yet. But here they are, straight from the Council website on the back of a set of old minutes:

We will be taking your ideas very seriously.
What we want from you?
• We want anyone who has an idea to send it to us: you might be an interested group, someone with expertise, a design class or student, or someone who simply walks the waterfront.
• You need to provide an outline of your concept in no more than two A4 pages.
• We are seeking ideas, not designs, but feel free to include a sketch or line diagram to support your idea.
• There is no public vehicular access to the Outer?T.
• The wharf piles require substantial strengthening, which is both a structural and financial constraint.
• View shafts need to be considered.
• Any structure needs to take into account the adjacent heritage buildings and its bulk and form should fit with the existing buildings.
• Any structure needs to create shelter for the inner wharf.
• Any idea needs to allow for ships to berth at the outer wharf.
• You should consider the financial viability of any idea.
• Your idea should be a ‘people magnet’ and attract fellow citizens and visitors to the Outer?T.
• Any development on the waterfront is governed by the Waterfront Framework. This document clearly outlines the vision, values and principles that guide all waterfront developments.

The Outer T is the last place in central Wellington to get evening sunlight, and the current old sheds are a waste of space. It was always a silly place to propose a hotel, where rich people want to sleep in peace and quiet, as it is the home for noisy drunken city boys who like to party late into the night. But at the very least, it would be a great place for a bar, drowning your sorrows, watching the sun go down over the skyline. Trouble is, that won’t pay the bill. So: ideas please!

Then today, two more Waterfront news items. The Hilton is back in the picture, so it seems, sifting around in the background to find the perfect site for its proposed Wellington Hilton. Personally I thought the Hilton name had long since lost its cachet, given that white trash bogan princess Paris still brandishes the family name like a limp celery stick slapping across the face of the world’s media. But apparently die-hard Hiltonites won’t come to Wellywood unless the name Hilton appears on their itinerary, and so a Hilton there must be.

Dompost front page news yesterday was that the Hilton chain were looking at possible sites such as the empty carpark land at Kumutoto; or the ancient and decrepit Overseas Passenger Terminal before it slides under the waves; or the increasingly deathly-looking former Rialto site, once destined as home for the Watermark luxury apartments. There must be better places than those – and sites that other developments haven’t already been extensively planned for. I’m not going to give away Hilton’s secret hiding place, but surely there are far better sites than those three, just waiting to be picked like a ripe plum.

And now for some good news: Wellington is to get a weekend waterfront gourmet food market very soon. Hooray! That should put a smile back on Mr Pike’s face, even if it doesn’t give him piles.

New Food Market for Culinary Capital – The City Market – a new weekly food and wine market showcasing local artisan products and producers – opens on Sunday 14 June. Situated alongside the existing Waitangi Park outdoor market, the City Market is championed by award-winning chef Martin Bosley and Rachel Taulelei of local food company Yellow Brick Road. The market will bring a stellar line-up of local artisan food and beverage producers together under one roof at Chaffers Dock Function Centre. It will also feature wine tastings, event previews, chef demonstrations, and entertainment.

The City Market will run every Sunday between 8.30am and 12.30pm in the atrium at the Chaffers Dock Function Centre. The market is being promoted as a non-profit organisation, with all proceeds from sales going directly to stallholders. Yum. Sounds great to me.

I’m sure there’s more news to come. We haven’t had an update on the Chinese Garden for a while, and the whole of Frank Kitts park is still looking tawdry, but it’s still all busy down there. Even in mid-winter, it seems, the waterfront is the place to be.

21 - 05 - 09

Pull the damn things down (the wharves) and start again – if we really must have wharves, just build new ones. Out with the hand-wringing and ratepayers’ burden – in with contemporary new structures that can facilitate more exciting developments (and in some cases be financed by those developments)…

As for the gourmet foodmarket – this has called for a very long time (see WellUrban), but it strikes me as pretty silly timing – just when everyone is cutting back due to skyrocketing food prices, with mincemeat replacing sirloin on the dinner plates of families throughout the country, a luxury foodmarket opens – I’d have enjoyed it a couple of years ago…

And as for the list of Outer Tee competition – the Waterfront Framework suggests that development on the outer Tee should be of an iconic nature, as befits the site. The list of ‘constraints’ provided above surely prevents that from occurring…? How about an open design competition to begin with…? Perhaps someone could run an open fringe design competition, designed to coincide with the actual one…? Someone care to mention to those good folk over at the Architectural Centre…?

21 - 05 - 09

The hilton should go on waterloo quay. The maritime police have just been booted out because the wharf is collapsing. It seems an ideal opportunity to increase the sense of activity encircling kumototo once the building north of meridia are built and something done with queens wharf itself. I strongly opposed the hilton on queens wharf, I thought it far too special a site for such a mediocre building of such elite and exclusive function. Waterloo quay would still have a great view, the hilton would pay for the wharf upgrade and wouldn’t have the downsides in terms of losing the potential for an ‘iconic’ building on an iconic site, or of it being a noisy an hopefully one day bustling place unsuited for a hotel

21 - 05 - 09

I still haven’t heard many pragmatic ideas other than a hotel for the site. Finding an idea that will pay to fix up the wharf is difficult without it naturally being something private/commercial that draws lots of opposition. So if not a hotel, then what? Apartments? I can only see that as less popular, at least a hotel is open and public. Look at the opposition to the OPT.

21 - 05 - 09

Perhaps I’ll put an entry into the competition for a brick and tile 3 bedroom house with a nice lawn for the Outer-T. I reckon it’ll have a good chance of winning of the suburbanites from Waterfront Watch are involved …..

TBH, I don’t have strong feelings for the Outer-T. I enjoyed the convenience of playing Indoor soccer there……. but I think we need something that will create a sheltered ‘inner harbour’ at Kumutoto. A hotel seemed like a reasonable idea considering moving the MFC there would be unfeasible ….. :-)

I can’t believe the OPT re-development has been objected to.

21 - 05 - 09

“Pull the damn things down (the wharves) and start again – if we really must have wharves, just build new ones. ”

Although that completely ignores there heritage value.

“Look at the opposition to the OPT.”

I don’t think it’s been anywhere near as widespread as against the Hilton. That may be because of the Hilton name (though I really can’t see it as elitist: it’s just a bog-standard international business hotel chain), and partly because it wouldn’t disrupt the Sport Billys.

21 - 05 - 09

Heritage value – yeah, but at what cost, and to whom? If the Council had that money (without leveraging my rates for more), I’d rather see it invested in the provision of meaningful services – public transport, social housing even, – or heaven forbid, reducing the ever-increasing rate demands to help those who are suffering recession shock.

21 - 05 - 09

From the Capital Times link:

“Waterfront Watch, the Civic Trust and the Federation all have clear ideas about what they’d like to see on the Outer-T. Candiliotis of the Federation wants it to remain an open space.”

Is Candiliotis mad? It is hard to think of a more forbidding windswept site in the CBD. Very uninviting. And even if you replaced the tarseal with something more pleasant, there are still much better options for sunning yourself and getting some fresh air than heading to the Outer T and risk getting blown in to the harbour.

22 - 05 - 09

waterfront watch are idiots.

they could be a relevant organisation.
they could actually be the voice of reason between the capitalists and the blue rinse. Instead they are the fringe.
It is a shame really.

They protested against the Athfield / Wraight design for Waitangi Park and supported the lame duck one.
Look how that turned out.
We get a world class urban park.

The mantra from Waterfront Watch continues…. “Buildings bad, grass good….. buildings bad, grass good….”

22 - 05 - 09

a little bird told me that this “competition” is PR work at its most cynical. Apparently there are people already involved on projects and this “competition” is just to make the public appear to have a voice in the process.
What players have a vested interest in this site? I’m sure some investigative research would discover that entity which is supposed to be for the public good, is less than transparent.

22 - 05 - 09

According to this week’s “Wellingtonian”, wharf restoration means encasing the rotting piles in concrete jackets – which to me makes any ‘heritage value’ argument seem pretty farcical…

The article goes on to suggest that restoration (ala jackets) will only set us back $5.3million ($3.5million of which needs to be spent on the project rather urgently). Of course, if a decent structure is to be built on any of the wharves, then these figures would be substantially higher – I wonder if Kerry’s alarmism was ‘inspired’ by the costings for the proposed ‘Hilton wharf’ strengthening rather than the much smaller costs of refurbishing the wharves to carry their current loads…?

My original point still stands – with respect to wharves for new developments at least – building exciting new ones that actually match the exciting new buildings that they will in effect be part of will actually be more cost effective – and will have little effect on heritage values (unless you consider the preservation of the timber members – encased in concrete – as a suitable strategy for preserving heritage).

Anyway, for those heritagists among us, what can be of more heritage value than letting them rot and fall into the harbour at various rates of decay? – it will be beautifully picturesque at least…

22 - 05 - 09

Pull them down and start again? Provocative to be sure, but perhaps that really is the only thing to do. Look: we all know that where they currently tie the international cruise ships is a shameful tip, that you wouldn’t send a shipment of live sheep to, let alone a rich boat full of Americans. Surely the Outer T is the only place we really want the Cruise ships to be.

That means the outer T will need to be rebuilt. Longer, stronger, better. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the expertise.

22 - 05 - 09

Yes but where is the financial imperative in that ? There’s a lot of cost but not much return. The wharf needs an ongoing source of income.

22 - 05 - 09

There is no heritage value. They’re a bunch of old wharves ffs. They look like crap and serve no function.

23 - 05 - 09

Well there certainly won’t be an heritage if they replace as the rotting timber with new concrete piles. So if the exact materials of the wharf don’t matter, (like the apocryphal Grandfathers axe) then what are we worrying about?

Knock it down and start again fix the ridiculous traffic problem with cars and taxis still pissing us all off.

24 - 05 - 09

I don’t see why decaying piles stuck in water have any conservation value. I’d have no problem with the whole wharf (and the one the Police have recently vacated) being demolished and rebuilt.

In which case, why shouldn’t we build new “wharves” (ie. piled structures jutting out in to the harbour on which structures could be built)? The water would have to be sufficiently shallow. Sinking the ugly and bizarre tugboat restaurant and replacing it with a building pushing out in to the harbour would be a vast improvement, IMHO.

25 - 05 - 09

davidp you need to be careful mentioning the tugboat restaurant. I once made a passing comment about it in an article I wrote on Oriental Bay and theowner rang me up and threatened me with the bash…

I find it curious that wharves that were built for entirely functional reasons are protected 150 years for aesthetic or heritage reasons. Wellington’s wharves grew to meet the growing needs of the marine traffic and now that we have very little such traffic, we become obsessed about whether to repair them in timber or concrete. If they have little sentimental value (particularly the outer T which for the majority can only bring memories of indoor netball or a helicopter ride they once took) and less historical value (exactly what did tie up here and who can remember it?) pull it down, change it, develop it and make it a vital part of the waterfront. Instead of trying to find a commerciall use that “fits” the outer T we should be investigating the shape of a new wharf that would give the best commercial return balanced with the best public use.

26 - 05 - 09

On what sort of professional basis can one make a comment such as “There is no heritage value. They’re a bunch of old wharves ffs. They look like crap and serve no function.”?

Look, I’m hardly what you’d call a heritage fundamentalist, and can often see that there are times when old buildings might have to make way for good new buildings that fit current and future needs. But I can also see that visible connections to history are very important, and heritage values go far beyond just recognising the twiddly details on pretty old buildings: the ICOMOS charter recognises aesthetic, historic, scientific and social value. We’ve tended to neglect our industrial and infrastructural heritage: just because something is “functional” doesn’t mean it is valueless, and just because your own memory only goes back as far as indoor netball it doesn’t mean that the connections to immigration, maritime commerce and wartime deployments aren’t significant and worth considering.

17 - 06 - 09

Just thought I’d post this letter to the DomPost, as they seem to get rid of letters after a while.
“Logic is hard to understand”
“The news that Wellington’s crumbling wharves will cost tens of millions of dollars to fix came as a storm from the northwest battered the waterfront. Bits of the wharf have been washing up on Oriental Bay and other beaches around the city for years, so it’s difficult to understand why Wellington City Council has not acted on this.
It’s also hard to understand the logic advanced by mayor Kerry Prendergast and others that any fixing or maintenance of the piles can be done only if accompanied by the construction of more buildings on the waterfront.
Recently, a girl fell off her bicycle into the harbour as she attempted to navigate a particularly narrow section of the waterfront. Continuing to build on an already overloaded structure doesn’t seem as wise an option as better maintenance and management.”
Oriental Bay

17 - 06 - 09

and this one also – both from 19 May 2009

“Entities failed in their duty”

“I was appalled to read your article about Wellington’s rotting wharf piles and the potential demand on ratepayers to meet the multimillion-dollar cost of repairs. What’s even worse is that the council knew nine years ago that urgent repairs were required.
Yet, at the flick of a pen, it has committed many millions to the proposed Kilbirnie sports centre project. Though I don’t oppose the project per se, I’ve always questioned the wisdom of committing this sum toward a loss-making facility in these difficult economic times, but not putting money toward the wharves’ repiling.
The council and the waterfront company seem to have been loath to allocate funding over the past decade, hoping a fairy godmother would come along to buy up the wharf properties and that she would do the repairs as part of the package.
It’s astonishing that the council and related waterfront company seem to have failed in their duty to maintain the unsafe wharves’ structures in question.
No worry, just sock the ratepayers an extra few hundred each each year to cover the repairs. We’re all swimming in surplus money.
Newlands [abridged]