Building proposed for MFC car park

This Thursday 30 September Wellington City Council will consider a proposal for a 175-year ground lease to enable property developer Willis Bond to transform the Michael Fowler Centre car park into a multi-level, green building with outdoor spaces the public can enjoy.

The building proposed for the Michael Fowler Centre car park, seen from the north.

“We’re aiming to reinvigorate Te Ngākau Civic Precinct and potentially pave the way for the location in the precinct of the proposed National Music Centre,” says Mayor Andy Foster.

“The stunning design incorporates around 15,000sqm of new mixed-use space in the inner city. The lower levels with retail or hospitality activities will attract more people and create stronger connections between Te Ngākau Civic Square, lower Cuba Street and our beautiful waterfront,” says Mayor Foster.

Anchoring the National Music Centre in this exciting new building would help ensure that the Te Ngākau Civic Precinct is vibrant, distinctive and an asset for all Wellingtonians, says Peter Biggs, CEO of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

“It would place Wellington and Aotearoa New Zealand with the great music centres of the world, on par with New York, Berlin, London and Helsinki.”

Professor Grant Guilford, Vice-Chancellor of Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, welcomes the proposed development, describing it as an exciting opportunity to progress the creation of a vibrant and innovative new music centre. “We’re looking forward to working with the City Council and Willis Bond to bring this to fruition,” says Professor Guilford.

The Chair of the Council’s Pūroro Āmua Planning and Environment Committee, Councillor Iona Pannett, says the proposed development is a great example of how good design can protect Te Ngākau Civic Precinct for future generations. “Willis Bond plans to use base isolators to help protect the building and its occupants in significant earthquakes and raise the ground floors to cope with rising sea levels due to climate change.

“As well as delivering a minimum 5-Star Green Star rated building, Willis Bond plans to landscape this area with much-needed green spaces to make the precinct more welcoming and provide shade. The site will also include several accessible car parks near the Michael Fowler Centre for people to use when attending events.”

Willis Bond Director David McGuinness says it’s exciting to have the opportunity to work with the Council to improve the usability, resiliency, and attractiveness of this iconic area in the Capital. “Our plan is to deliver a landmark building which integrates with the Michael Fowler Centre, the wider Te Ngākau Civic Precinct and key city connections. Its mixed-use design means we will be able to deliver more much needed flexible, safe space to serve the growing city.” Leasing the car park was agreed to in the 2015-25 Long-term Plan (page 62) as one way to revitalise Te Ngākau Civic Precinct without creating additional debt to Council or ratepayers.

Following a public tender process, Willis Bond was selected as the preferred development partner in 2016 but the proposal was paused following the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake.

Progressing the development partnership was reconfirmed this year in the 2021-2031 Long-term Plan. On Thursday, officers are seeking approval from Council to finalise the proposal with Willis Bond.

“Post the 2016 decision Willis Bond with great patience, for which I thank Willis Bond for, agreed to delay finalising the agreement so the Council could carry out assessments of all Te Ngākau Civic Precinct structures after the Kaikoura earthquake. Subsequently, the car park has been used for a temporary rehearsal space for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while the St James Theatre strengthening work was underway,” says Mayor Foster.

If approval is given, Willis Bond will apply for resource consent. If consent is given, Willis Bond plans to begin work on-site in late 2022/early 2023.

The Council is working with the Royal New Zealand Ballet on how and when to dismantle the temporary studio in the MFC car park. The Council is also looking into options for the sale of the relocatable building.