Drax Project has snubbed Wellington on their latest New Zealand tour because the city is without a functioning town hall.

The capital has quite the venue problem on its hands with both the town hall and St James Theatre closed for earthquake strengthening, and the TSB Arena found to be "deficient in almost every way".

They are among the growing list of construction projects that are weighing heavy on Wellington City Council's shoulders.

The consequences of the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake are still being revealed, like the closure of Wellington's central library in March.

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Mayor Justin Lester said it was undoubtedly a busy time for the council.

Mayor Justin Lester in the Wellington Town Hall after his council approved $112 million to upgrade the building. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mayor Justin Lester in the Wellington Town Hall after his council approved $112 million to upgrade the building. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"You can't just continue to kick cans down the road, there's no better time than the present and if you delay things, they just get more expensive in the future."

Some city councillors believe the weight of the projects has pushed any prospect of an indoor arena for the city well into the distance or off the table completely.

Some would say the last thing the city needs is to take on another building project.

The Drax snub

In a statement, Drax Project said Wellington was the band's favourite place to play but this particular tour was scaled for town halls and there wasn't a comparable venue in the city to bring the show to.

"Although we're looking at other ideas for hometown shows in the very near future, it would be great for everyone into music and cultural events if the town hall gets fixed soon.

READ MORE:
Wellington Town Hall signed off after budget blow-out
Drax Project to play headline shows in Auckland, Christchurch

"It's the perfect-sized venue for acts who aren't big enough for TSB, but don't want people to miss out by only playing licensed club shows."

The band will play at the Auckland Town Hall on July 25 and at the Christchurch Town Hall on August 2.

Getting the Wellington Town Hall back to its former glory has proved a headache for the city council.

Earlier this year councillors signed off on an extra $19.3 million to strengthen and refurbish the building.

The budget is now set at $112.4m, a huge jump from an initial estimate of $43m after it was first closed in 2013.

Even now, costs could continue to balloon.

There is also an undisclosed contingency fund in the mix to account for any further increase in price during construction.

NZ Festival has worked to find new venue space with the closure of both the Town Hall and St Jame's Theatre. Photo / Supplied
NZ Festival has worked to find new venue space with the closure of both the Town Hall and St Jame's Theatre. Photo / Supplied

Drax Project isn't the only one struggling to find a venue in Wellington.

The council has just given NZ Festival a $750k grant from the City Growth Fund.

Festival executive director Meg Williams said the city's venue closures presented significant challenges.

The St James Theatre alone represents about 30 per cent of the festival's ticketed programming.

"The festival has worked on a solution in response to the venue issues for 2020 that will include adaption of existing venues, spectacular pop-up performance venues outside traditional spaces, and large scale outdoor free events", Williams said.

'Deficient in almost every way'

Next door to the town hall, the Michael Fowler Centre remains open.

However, last year the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency advised work on the hall would affect the daytime use of the centre.

Venues, marketing and destination development general manager David Perks said that was because of significant noise, making the space unsuitable for events like conferences and meetings.

In fact, the civic precinct has turned into somewhat of a ghost town with the library, town hall and Civic Administration Building closed and the Municipal Office Building almost empty.

Wellington Town Hall has faced budget blowouts. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wellington Town Hall has faced budget blowouts. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But it's the library that seems to have stirred the emotions of the general public.

It was closed as a result of new guidance from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, after Statistics House partially collapsed in the Kaikoura Earthquake.

The council closed the library the day after it received an engineering report it commissioned.

The revelations effectively make it just 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the Building Code.

The options for its future are either to demolish the building or strengthen it to 100 per cent, 67 per cent or 34 per cent of the code.

Lester said the council would only demolish it if it was more cost effective and time efficient than the three other options.

Insurers are not liable for the library because its earthquake rating is based on how it was designed and built rather than any damage.

On nearby Courtenay Place, the St James Theatre is described as the jewel in the crown of Wellington's flourishing theatre scene, but it is also closed.

It's being sorely missed as a venue and home to the New Zealand Ballet while it undergoes earthquake strengthening.

That work is behind schedule after a budget blowout resulted in the cost almost doubling.

The building will be brought up to 67 per cent of the building code after the council forked out an extra $16m for strengthening and upgrades.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has been re-homed while the St James Theatre is strengthened. Photo / Supplied
The Royal New Zealand Ballet has been re-homed while the St James Theatre is strengthened. Photo / Supplied

In November 2017, WREDA revealed preliminary findings from a report it commissioned to confirm the TSB Arena was past its use by date.

What most Wellingtonians already knew was painted plain as day.

The report found the arena was "deficient in almost every way", David Perks said at the time.

That included ticketing, space for food and beverages and the fixed u-shape of the seating.

Indoor Arena 'gone but not forgotten'

At a meeting on Wednesday, city councillors voted through Lester's amendment to remove $511,000 from the 2019/2020 Annual Plan for a proposed indoor arena in Wellington.

It was to show other projects needed priority in the city, like the library.

"In an annual plan if there's no requirement to spend that money in the next 12 months, then there's no need for it to be there."

"At the moment we're in a business case situation, with no building or capex requirement", Lester said.

It wasn't a question of if the project would happen but when, Lester said.

"You've got to start somewhere and you've got to make sure you plan for that in the future and keep it warm so that when it is ready to go, it can start."

The waterfront site at Centreport was the only place suitable in the city to build the arena, Lester said.

Councillor Andy Foster doubted the money for the arena would be spent within the next 10 years as the business case looked "marginal".

Statistics House was badly damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake. Photo / Mark Micthell
Statistics House was badly damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake. Photo / Mark Micthell

As for its location, Foster described it as "the most vulnerable place in the planet" considering it's right by the sea and near empty lots of land where buildings once stood prior to the Kaikoura Earthquake.

But councillor Simon Marsh said it was a great site and the money for the arena should be considered "gone but not forgotten".

On the other hand, councillor Iona Pannett said the project was unrealistic.

Existing buildings should be prioritised over new ones, she said.

"The city has got so many resilience challenges in terms of preparing for climate change and for further earthquakes that we really need to put our money there.

"So that means strengthening infrastructure and sometimes rebuilding buildings."

Maxing out the ratepayers' credit card

The prospect of increasing rates is undoubtedly on the minds of Wellingtonians as the council's project list continues to grow.

Wellington residents are facing insurance hikes being in an area prone to natural disasters.

Body corporate rates are skyrocketing as apartment dwellers are faced with huge seismic strengthening costs.

Councillor Nicola Young said she was concerned the city could become unaffordable.

"It is not right that the council should be maxing out the ratepayers' credit card for people who really can't afford to pay the bills."

She said the council needed to prioritise its projects and abandon "nice to haves".

"Council needs to demonstrate increased fiscal prudence, accepting that the city has some expensive but necessary projects – such as Civic Square, including the library, and Let's Get Wellington Moving", Young said.

Councillor Nicola Young is concerned Wellington could become unaffordable. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Councillor Nicola Young is concerned Wellington could become unaffordable. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Young put forward an amendment at the meeting on Thursday to remove projects from the Long-Term Plan including the Marine Education Centre, part of the Frank Kitts Park upgrade and snow leopards and lions at the Zoo.

Her original plan for the amendment included taking out the money for the indoor arena but Lester got in first putting a variation of that on the table separately.

Councillor Foster moved Young's amendment.

"It's not how much the council can afford, it's how much ratepayers can afford.

"We don't need things like an arena, we want one, but we don't need one", he said.

The amendment failed to get past the rest of those around the council table.

The 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake hit Wellington hard. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake hit Wellington hard. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But it drives home the need for council to show fiscal discipline because nothing is certain for a city lying on a fault line.

Furthermore, Kaikoura has proven Wellington is still vulnerable even when an earthquake isn't its own.