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Construction on events centre to boost Wellington tourism

Picking up the shovels and getting stuck back into exciting infrastructure builds is top of the list for Wellington City Council now the Government has eased the lockdown restrictions.

Work on several Council construction projects was put on hold in March as the New Zealand went into lockdown.

With construction given the green light to resume under Level 3 protocols, work can resume on projects, including the Conference and Exhibition Centre, the St James Theatre and the Town Hall, next Tuesday.

“Prior to lockdown we had made excellent progress on these projects and I am excited to see them back up and running to ensure we are able to provide world-class venues for international, national and local events, exhibitions and conferences in the coming years. These are the things that will help return Wellington as the vibrant city we love,” says Deputy Mayor Sarah Free.

“Events come in all shapes and forms across the education, arts, culture, sport and business sectors,” says Economic Development portfolio leader Councillor Diane Calvert.

"Having a range of venues offering different scale and environments allows for that variety to be met and ensures Wellingtonians can benefit from local attendance or showcasing our skills to a wider audience.

“Venues like the St James, Town Hall and the Convention and Exhibition Centre aren’t just buildings, they’ll bring life to our city, revitalise our urban spaces, and stimulate businesses nearby – in short, they enhance the lives of Wellingtonians.”

Convention and Exhibition Centre

Work had been in full flow for the Convention and Exhibition Centre, with the base structure nearing completion with all 220 piles in place before the lockdown, as well as around 60 percent of the base concrete layer completed. Manufacture of the quake-resistant base-isolators has been completed and these are now in transit and it won’t be long before we see the structure emerging above ground.

“We’ve already committed about $60 million on land, design, foundations and materials like the base isolators. While the new centre was planned to benefit from attracting international events, primarily Australian, this business comprised less than 7 per cent of the delegate number projections,” says Mayor Andy Foster.

Last week when speaking to more than 2000 tourism operators at a New Zealand industry webinar Stephen England-Hall, CEO of Tourism NZ, said: “Business events will play an important role in the tourism sector’s recovery.”

Despite the delay due to COVID-19, the centre remains on track to be completed in early 2023 and is well placed to support that recovery.

While the world of mega conferences might look different as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, small- to medium-sized conferences will remain relevant.

“We are hearing from around New Zealand and the world that academics, associations, government organisations and businesses are already planning their meeting and conference schedule for 2021,” says David Perks, general manager for regional development destination and attraction at WellingtonNZ.

“While the world is in turmoil WellingtonNZ has received a number of new enquiries to book the convention space in 2023 as soon as it is open.

“The size of the Convention and Exhibition Centre coupled with its flexibility is an important part of Wellington’s ability to attract those sized conferences in the future,” says David.

“Domestic tourism has been important to the city for 25 years. The ground-floor exhibition space will bring exciting exhibitions from around the world, as well as providing a stage for Wellington creatives to tell a New Zealand story. This will be the most significant new driver of year-round domestic tourism for the city since Te Papa and the Stadium. It will bring fantastic new experiences for Wellingtonians to enjoy too.”

ITx, New Zealand’s premier tech conference, is held in Wellington every two years. “We're absolutely committed to continuing with the ITx conference, once it's safe again to do so.” says Paul Matthews, CE of IT Professionals NZ.

“We see face-to-face conferences as crucial for our industry. This might sound strange coming from the tech sector, but technology still can't replace the ‘hallway’ discussions and networking that really make a live event special. Our sector loves online events as well, but we see a bright future for in-person conferences for a long time yet.”

The building cost will be $157.8million. This cost is 67 per cent funded by the commercial sector and will support 864 construction jobs and 372 jobs from operations.

Town Hall 

Nearby, key strengthening work on the Town Hall will continue once contractors can return to site. The project team and contractors are developing protocols on how construction can restart once we move to under level 3.

Some strengthening work has already been completed including the parapets above MFC lane and Wakefield Street. Most heritage items have been removed and stored. The base isolators have been purchased and are now on site. Temporary steel is in place to support parts of the building including walls and floors. Significant demolition has been completed with the Municipal Office Building annex removed and access created for large machinery to enter the building.

St James Theatre

The work being done to strengthen and refurbish the St James will also start up again once we move to level 3. Design work and planning has continued under lockdown and, as with other projects, the team is developing protocols to work under level 3.

Prior to lockdown the project had been progressing well with the work completed including; the careful removal of a number of heritage elements that have been stored for reinstallation as well as the removal of building fabric and services to allow access to the building’s structural elements for strengthening.

The installation of new foundations has started and new structural steelwork is being manufactured and progressively installed, carbon-fibre wrapping of concrete structural elements is also under way.

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