Wellington’s convention centre to proceed despite Covid-19 downturn

Plans for Wellington’s new convention centre will go ahead for now, but the building could be repurposed if the market has not recovered by the time of its opening in 2023.

The Covid-19 outbreak has dealt a double blow to the plans, with the council facing a NZ$70 million hole in its budget for the 2020/21 year as its revenue streams dry up and the prospect of a highly reduced business event sector impacted by travel bans.

But Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has ruled out scrapping the plans altogether, saying the council has already spent around NZ$60 million on the project thus far.

“We have contracts for construction, so stopping construction would incur very significant damage claims from contractor, subcontractors, suppliers – and, importantly, put 800-plus people out of work,” he told The New Zealand Herald.

“It would also damage council’s reputation as a reliable client for future construction projects, and that risk would likely be priced into future construction tenders. So we could spend perhaps $80-90 million but have nothing to show for it. That would be terrible.”

However, Foster did leave the door open for re-purposing the building closer to its opening in 2023 if the conference market had not recovered.

But WellingtonNZ remained confident that the convention centre’s target demographic of small to medium-sized conferences would be resilient in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are hearing from around New Zealand and the world that academics, associations, government organisations and businesses are already planning their meeting and conference schedule for 2021,” said David Perks, general manager for regional development, destination and attraction.