Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says there is strong public support to carry out the work which was written into the Long Term Plan.
“The pieces of this complicated but exciting jigsaw puzzle are starting to fall into place,” she says.
“Work has been progressing steadily on plans with City Councillors and some stakeholders holding a series of workshops to discuss the proposals being developed.
“A whole lot of great ideas for the precinct are taking shape and we want to share them with the community.”
Mayor Wade-Brown says Civic Square is surrounded by buildings that “don’t exactly put on a friendly face for people in the Square.
“One of the things we’ll be asking Wellingtonians is whether there should be more commercial activity in the Square – and what kind?
“Should we, for example, make available more ground-floor building space for hospitality or retail that opens out into the Square?”
Mayor Wade-Brown says the Civic Square project is being led by two senior Council staff members, Ian Pike and Gerald Blunt, with extensive experience including successful development on Wellington’s waterfront.
She says the one certainty in terms of the precinct options is that the Town Hall will definitely be strengthened.
“The Town Hall has been assessed as earthquake prone and has been closed to the public since early 2014. The deadline for it being strengthened is 2019. We want this building back in action as soon as reasonably possible.”
Council officers are also working with the NZSO and Victoria University to test the feasibility of a music hub/school of music that could be located in in the Town Hall.
Athfield Architects is working with Council engineers, the University and NZSO on the design implications of various options involving the use of the auditorium, other parts of the building, and possibly adjoining buildings.
Councillor Andy Foster, Chair of the Council’s Transport and Urban Development Committee, says Councillors are “pretty united” in their views on what they want for Civic Square and the precinct.
“I think I’d sum it up by saying we all want continued public access to key parts of the Town Hall and in particular the main auditorium.
“Everyone also wanted to see more life and activity in the Square, better connections to other parts of the city, especially the waterfront and Cuba Street – and we want the plans to stack up commercially.
“Councillors are enthusiastic about the life that an artificial turf and a simple thing like bean bag seating have brought. Councillors want Civic Square to be a place where people want to stop and enjoy, and not simply move through, or move past. We talked about some of the great squares of Europe and what makes them great spaces for people to enjoy within their cities and towns.”
Cr Foster says up to $100 million could be invested in the Civic precinct over the next decade, depending on how various plans pan out.
“Most of the buildings in the precinct – City Gallery and Michael Fowler Centre excepted – need earthquake strengthening.
“We are looking at possible commercial development opportunities for Jack Ilott Green and the MFC car park. Development of these sites would help fund strengthening of the buildings in the Civic precinct and upgrading the Square. It is important that new buildings bring more life to the area, and are designed in a way that makes the Square a more desirable place to visit and enjoy.”
He says the Council “will be talking to the market” in the next couple of months to test interest in development opportunities for the MFC car park.