Wellington region looks set to get 10,000-seater indoor arena

30 May 2017

The Wellington region looks set to get a new indoor arena that could seat up to 12,000 people. The Wellington Regional Strategy Committee, which includes the region's mayors, unanimously agreed on Tuesday to make the long-term plan a reality.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, who chairs the committee, said the plans were for an 8000 to 12,000 seated arena, but it would more likely be about 10,000 and would modelled on the Spark Arena (previously Vector) in Auckland.

Wellington City Council has been working on the idea for the past 18 months and has budgeted $60 million in its Long-Term Plan for the project, but other councils in the region may be asked to pay a levy, as they continue to do for the Westpac Stadium.

Possible sites for the new arena could be near Westpac Stadium, the railway station, the waterfront, or the central city entertainment precinct, Lester said. Other sites around the region would also be considered, and it would replace 5600-capacity TSB Arena.

Wellington concert promoter Phil Sprey, who has long been advocating for a covered venue bigger than the TSB Arena but smaller than Westpac Stadium, said the announcement was good news.

Big international acts were increasingly playing multiple nights in smaller arenas, rather than braving unpredictable weather and the logistical challenges of filling a stadium, he said

He urged planners to build a 15,000-seat arena to future-proof the venue. "Then you could see all the major artists that have been playing Vector Arena."

He believed the best site would have been on the waterfront, where the logs are kept, but given recent earthquake issues, he suggested Petone as an alternative. It would be accessible to people north of Wellington, and new link roads would make it easier for people to travel there.

Lester said the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency would lead the investigation, looking at costs, appropriate locations, funding and timing.

"Wellington is the capital of culture in this country, but we hear frequently that a lack of a good-sized concert arena means we are missing out on major acts which are going elsewhere instead." Having the region's support for the project was critical, and meant plans could move ahead, he said.

"It would have been difficult for the city to build this on its own. Without the support of the region, we could not get this across the line."

Currently Wellington regional ratepayers contribute to a stadium levy in excess of $2m a year to help fund Westpac Stadium.

The levy ends in November, and the region's councils will consider whether it could be continued to support a new arena. Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy said the whole region would benefit from such an arena.

"This will be great for the Hutt, and the whole Wellington region. Major concerts will be a boost for tourism and local businesses and help us attract more people to come and stay in the region." Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said it was important the whole region supported the project.

"This will be a big feather in the cap of the region. We've all seen news reports of international acts heading elsewhere in the country because we don't have the infrastructure to support their shows. "This will help us compete and will be a great thing for the local arts and culture scene."

Westpac Stadium chief executive Shane Harmon said a larger indoor arena in the Wellington region would see more acts coming through and the stadium would continue to be viable for bigger shows.

"We have advocated that a large indoor arena would drive more artists, visitors and economic impacts than a roof on the stadium."

Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said the key would be location, size and the right funding method, such as the Westpac Stadium levy. "It's got to multifunctional, fit for purpose,  and they should not take their time about it."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa hotels regional chairman Steve Martin said: "An indoor concert facility would be fantastic . Large events bring business to the city and are good for hotels, accommodation providers and the hospitality businesses."