Sir Peter Jackson’s advance west from his Miramar stronghold has surrounded the E tū union building. The property, now crucial to secure full control of a key waterfront block and extend the borders of Jacksonville to west of the strategically-important Wellington Airport, may already be part of the filmmaker’s growing portfolio.
The purchase of most of a waterfront block in Rongotai is part of a significant recent land grab by the billionaire film mogul and his artistic and business partner Dame Fran Walsh, with interests controlled by them last month buying the controversial and troubled Shelly Bay site and also recently splashing out $8.5 million for a holiday home and estate in Queenstown.
A Herald on Sunday investigation into Jackson’s real estate empire has found the Lord of the Rings director has doubled the value of his property holdings since 2019 - largely film business property and studios on the Miramar peninsula - to now include vast warehouses in Upper Hutt and luxury residences in Masterton and Queenstown worth more than $350m.
The E tū Wellington headquarters on McGregor St in Rongotai, with a rateable valuation of $2.5m, had been owned and occupied by the umbrella union since 2005 and was advertised for sale in February. A sales agreement has since been signed and the union vacated the premises late last month.
Neither the union nor sales agents Tommy’s Real Estate would confirm details, but neither denied that Jackson was the purchaser.
Ben Castle, of Tommy’s, said the property was under contract with the deal due to settle tomorrow. He wouldn’t be drawn on confirming whether Jackson had bought it.
“That’s what everyone’s assuming. At the end of the day they’ve kept it private to us, so I can’t confirm,” Castle said.
E tū national secretary Bill Newson was similarly guarded: “The sale was approved by our member-led National Executive, and our members have been informed about the move. We will not be going into more detail about the sale at this stage.”
Property records show that LB HC, a holding company with Jackson and Walsh as director and ultimately owned by the pair’s Wingnut Group Management, has over the past few months acquired every other property on the block.
Questions sent by the Herald on Sunday to Wingnut and representatives of Jackson about the block purchase, and plans for its development, went unanswered this week.
Jackson and his film interests have had a fractious relationship with the union movement over the past few decades, chiefly when attempts to unionise production of blockbuster trilogy The Hobbit resulted in the passing of a law outlawing collective bargaining in the film sector.
Former union leader Ian Powell, informed of the apparent sale to Jackson, said: “As a former E tū member, I am a bit bemused”.
Despite the identity of the counterparty, Powell said he supported E tū serving its members by getting the best price possible for its assets.
“It might stick in the craw a bit, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said.
The full block - bordered by Kingsford Smith St, Lyall Parade, Tirangi Rd and McGregor St - includes an airport motel and an automotive mechanic, but has a combined rateable valuation of $20m sitting on a prime 6238sq m development block with sea views.
Richard Mazur of NZRealty, who sold his properties on the block to LB HC in July, said the consolidated section offered the potential to build big.
“It’s an amazing development opportunity - but you’ve got to be in a position to spend significant capital to make it work,” Mazur said.
Several sources have speculated that the land could be used to develop Jackson’s long-mooted movie museum, after earlier attempts to build one as a public-private partnership with the Wellington Council foundered. It was announced in 2015 but ran into issues over economic viability and was canned three years later.
Jackson is understood to have spent tens of millions of dollars on notable film props over the years, including the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Daleks, the Hall camera panel from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and creature models, prosthetics and prop weapons from the Planet of the Apes, Terminator and Alien franchises.
Jackson’s economic fortunes have waxed and waned and waxed again over the past two decades. He won three Oscars and earned a fortune from adapting and directing The Lord of the Rings trilogy two decades ago, and used the production to bootstrap a cluster of full-service companies for filmmakers that - with Government subsidy schemes for international film productions - have gone on to employ thousands.
A relatively fallow film-making patch in the years after the final premiere of The Hobbit trilogy in 2014 led to outside investors being sought for his flagship Weta Digital special effects company.
His new partner in Weta Digital - former Napster enfant terrible and early Facebook investor Sean Parker - returned Jackson to the ranks of Forbes billionaires when the company’s software was flipped in late 2021 to Software giant Unity in a deal that netted Jackson and Walsh $1.355b in cash and shares, while also leaving them in control of the film-making businesses.
Jackson and Walsh restructured their property holdings early last year, with the vast bulk of the group’s real estate now held by Stanley Properties, a company directed and ultimately owned by the pair.
According to CoreLogic records, Stanley Properties is on the title to 67 properties with a combined rateable valuation of $330m. This figure does not account for the $20m block now held by LB HC, nor the Shelly Bay site in Miramar acquired by Jackson and Walsh this month after they had backed decade-long opposition to a 700-home development proposed for the site.
This marks a significant increase from 2018 - including appreciation and acquisitions - when Jackson’s property empire was assessed as being worth $150m.
From Wellywood to Queenstown
While Sir Peter Jackson is known more for his sprawling film interests in the capital, the billionaire director has also quietly accumulated a string of estates and holiday homes near Queenstown worth $22.5m.
This portfolio was capped in May when Stanley Properties acquired a luxury four-bedroom, four-bathroom home marketed internationally as “perfection in paradise”.
Advertising described the three-hectare property as having a secure gated entrance and a 360-degree vista.
“Bordering conservation land with breathtaking views overlooking the glistening waters of Lake Whakatipu, your eye is drawn to the soul-soothing craggy snow-capped mountains of Cecil Peak and Walter Peak beyond. This location is world-class and truly unique.”
This acquisition was accompanied by the simultaneous purchase of a neighbouring, but vacant, one-hectare block for $2.5m.
According to data from CoreLogic, interests connected with Jackson have spent a total of $13.85m buying properties in Closeburn since 1996. Including the May purchase, he now owns seven parcels and three homes across 34ha with a combined rateable value of $22.5m.
Matt Nippert is an Auckland-based investigations reporter covering white-collar and transnational crimes and the intersection of politics and business. He has won more than a dozen awards for his journalism - including twice being named Reporter of the Year - and joined the Herald in 2014 after having spent the decade prior reporting from business newspapers and national magazines.