Nikau Café in Wellington's abandoned Civic Square is back to square one after council staff ditched the precinct and then Covid-19 hit.

What should be the heart of the city has turned into a graveyard of buildings plagued with seismic issues.

Construction to strengthen the Town Hall to 100 per cent of the New Building Standard is underway, but the neighbouring Municipal Office Building has been abandoned by council staff because of the noise.

The Central Library was abruptly shut in March last year due to concerns relating to the partial collapse of Statistics House in the Kaikoura Earthquake.

The Civic Administration Building is also closed as Wellington City Council and insurers continue to thrash out a settlement after it was damaged in the 2016 quake.


Nikau Café director Shelley Addison told the Herald they're trying to be positive but the business is hurting.

Subscribe to Premium

At the end of 2018 council staff started relocated to the PwC building on The Terrace.

Heavy and noisy construction work was due to start on the Town Hall in the New Year, meaning the Municipal Office Building would be unsuitable for occupation.

It's also now earmarked to house a National Music Centre.

Addison said she was prepared to take a hit but was of the understanding elected members and some senior management were going to remain in the precinct on the top floor of the library.

However, it turned out the library wasn't fit to have anybody under its roof with a new engineering report revealing the building has an effective NBS rating of 15 per cent.

"We just took a massive drop straight away", Addison said.

The exit of council staff resulted in a 35 per cent revenue hit.


Addison said they trialled opening at night, running functions and doing catering to make up the shortfall.

By Christmas 2019 revenue was recovering and the situation was looking more rosy, until Covid-19 landed in the country at the beginning of this year.

Wellington's Civic Square. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Wellington's Civic Square. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The café has plummeted back to a 35 per cent drop in revenue.

"We've just had this cumulative drop and we have never got back to what it was in 2018", Addison said.

The end of the wage subsidy in a few weeks' time was going to really bite, she said.

"There are only two things you can save on and that's staff costs and food costs, so if those are the only things you can cut down on you end up being on a hiding to nothing.


"We've got fantastic staff so we don't want to be losing them or them having to look for second jobs because they've been really committed to the café and we're committed to them. We've got a great team going."

"That is what's hard as an employer, is to be trying to look after your staff and make sure everybody has got jobs but it can't go on forever."

Wellington mayor Andy Foster said the council was committed to get Civic Square pumping again.

"The reality is for a reasonably significant period of time the activity in large part is going to be construction workers in orange vests and hard hats, because just about every building in Civic Square has got something wrong with it with the exception of City Gallery and the Michael Fowler Centre."

That could get a few more people in the door for Addison but it's unlikely to change her feelings that Civic Square has "lost its mojo" in the meantime.

"It's just not the place it used to be for obvious reasons. It used to be the heart of the city but we've barely got a pulse at the moment."