The cost of earthquake-strengthening and redeveloping Wellington’s Town Hall has rocketed from $182 million to a possible $329m.
Mayor Tory Whanau said it was “extremely tough to hear, but not unexpected”.
The new completion date was sometime in 2027, she announced at a press conference on Tuesday.
Since the Town Hall was declared earthquake-prone and closed in 2013, the cost of the work has grown from $43m to $60m to $90m to $112m and most recently to $182m in 2022.
Wellington City Council announced the eye-watering budget blowout in a statement this afternoon.
Whanau said potential risks previously signalled by engineers, architects and contractors had now come to pass.
“The Town Hall is an old, fragile, complicated heritage building built on reclaimed land – and the project team keep encountering new structural and ground conditions that are significantly impacting costs.”
The condition of the building and the ground it sits on are worse than expected, affecting the cost and construction timeline.
The latest cost increase is estimated to be anywhere between $70m and $147m, meaning the final bill could be as much as $329m.
Whanau said the situation would be considered and voted on at a council meeting later this month.
“We are dealing with challenging economic conditions but we are more than halfway through the project, which was started by a previous council. There’s no way we can turn back. We must see it through to completion.
“However, I join Wellingtonians at being frustrated and annoyed at the news of another cost increase.”
Councillors have been briefed today on different options, including stopping the project and mothballing the building.
But they were told leaving it in its current state would be a breach of the Building Act. Mothballing the project would require a new resource consent as it currently has a “start to finish” consent.
Councillors were told demolishing it was unrealistic due to the Town Hall’s heritage listing and consenting constraints.
A new consent could explore whether a change of conditions could be provided but it is unlikely to be approved and is very likely to be challenged, council officials have said.
“The community wanted the council to seismically upgrade the building and reopen it as a world-class music venue. It is highly unfortunate that this comes at a considerable cost, but we will have to confront this reality,” Whanau said.
“We can’t leave it sitting there unfinished.”
Wellington City Council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said the council was advised in 2019 that it would be one of the most complex and risky projects undertaken in recent times in New Zealand.
“Given the complexity of the contract and soaring building costs over the past few years, no construction company was prepared to take on all of these risks, so the council had to accept it would need to do so. These risks have been realised to a level even greater than had been anticipated.”
The redevelopment of the Town Hall was intended to turn it into a music and recording venue with improved rehearsal and performance space.
It was planned to be a base for civic and community events and part of a centre of musical excellence for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and home to Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music Te Kōkī.
Sir Peter Jackson and Dame Fran Walsh gave $2m in August to help build the new National Music Centre.
The money is to go towards fitting out state-of-the-art recording studios in the basement of the Town Hall.
At the time, the couple said they were thrilled to be able to contribute to the refit and welcomed the opportunity to support local talent.
“This amazing new facility has far more significance than just being an old building that’s been converted into a recording studio.”
The music for The Hobbit was recorded in the Town Hall with assistance from the NZSO, and Jackson said the Abbey Road audio engineers described the space as being one of “the best acoustic spaces they had encountered”.
“When the Town Hall was built, microphones and tape recorders didn’t exist – they hadn’t been invented. It was built to be a live performance venue with the sound of every voice and instrument bouncing perfectly from wall to wall.”
The Town Hall also held more significance than just great acoustics, he said.
“Let’s not forget ... it’s where The Beatles performed in 1964, and that alone makes it sacred.”
Housed in the refurbished basement of the Town Hall, the recording studios are set to provide a complete in-house package of recording and mixing capability which will rival some of the best in the world.
Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.