Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Waterfront update

I must be a sucker for punishment, since on Monday night I attended the latest Waterfront Development Subcommittee meeting. Some people would consider that the study of local government consultation belongs under governance or public policy studies, but I've come to realise that it's a branch of psychopathology. The range of social dysfunction, paranoia and anger-management issues on display would fill several chapters of DSM-IV-TR: and that's just among the councillors. Those in the public gallery are worse, and I include myself as an obvious textbook example of chronic masochism.

Nevertheless, it's the only way to get the latest updates and gossip, which I've combined here with my usual other sources (public notices, real estate advertisements, unsubstantiated rumours, peering through windows) to update my previous post on current and upcoming waterfront developments.

Waitangi Park
Blessing the waharoa at Waitangi Park - from the 'On the waterfront' newsletterWaitangi Park is now officially finished. Well, it's been officially finished for a while, but now it's even more finished. The waharoa (or should that be waharoa iti, given its somewhat diminutive height?) was installed and blessed in October, and besides its spiritual and symbolic functions, it now provides a useful landmark. The final (really final, this time) act will be to install some pou whenua prior to Waitangi Day, and while I haven't heard about where they're going to go, earlier renderings of the park showed some in the wetlands. Here's hoping that they use this opportunity to do something about the crappy blue pipes pouring the Waitangi stream into the wetlands: I have to believe that they were only an interim measure.

Chaffers Dock
A month ago I described the confirmed tenants of the ground floor spaces, and while there have been no more announcements, it looks like the "sophisticated, relaxed dining" restaurant Home will be in the desirable northwest corner of the building, and will be designed by The House, who are responsible for the slick decor of Matterhorn and Mojo among others. Then again, they also created Mighty Mighty, so anything could happen.

If you're worried about the cheap-looking vents that have been stuck all over the old building, you can relax: these are contrary to the scope, so the Technical Advisory Group is getting the contractors to replace them with something less obtrusive. The new Boathouse apartments are looking great, and I can't wait until the complex opens (still no more detail beyond "after Christmas") to see how it transforms this section of the waterfront.

Overseas Passenger Terminal
There's little progress to report here, as Wellington Waterfront Ltd are still negotiating with the Marina board over access to carparks. Let's hope they can come up with a solution that allows reasonable car access for berth owners without smothering the area in cars.

Taranaki Street Wharf
Goodbye, little green mound. While some people really miss it, and Jo will have to get a new banner for her not-blog, the flatter lawn should be a more flexible space, and it allows better views both to and from the Free Ambulance Building. This is still a temporary lawn, though, and while the final layout of this area is still being worked out (to accomodate the relocated wharewaka), it will probably get a bit more of a slope than it has now. The pohutukawa are gradually being installed in their final homes along the Quays, the timber garden is back in place, and with St Johns looking like a big success it'll be good to see how the spaces work over summer.

It finally looks like something is happening at the bottom of the NZX building. While the spaces were leased to Lion Breweries some time ago, and they didn't seem in too much of a hurry to sublet them, it appears that they are in discussions with a potential operator for one of the two spaces. Whatever it is (please be a food market!), it's possibly going to open in the first quarter of next year.

Frank Kitts Park
This was the main source of controversy at the meeting. Waterfront Watch were there in numbers, and as I didn't make an oral submission myself, all of the public presentations were against the Design Brief, and in particular the inclusion of a Chinese Garden here rather than at Waitangi Park. This was in contrast to the written submissions (107kB PDF) which were primarily supportive of the move.

That didn't stop Waterfront Watch from claiming the moral high ground and brandishing a 12,000-signature petition that "proved" that the public were against the brief. In fact, the petition was from the 1990's, and was against putting multi-storey buildings along the park edge, and had nothing whatsoever to do with a Chinese Garden. Strangely, while they think that a Chinese Garden would be a wonderful public open space at Waitangi, at Frank Kitts it would "ruin the open space". They also continued to speak on behalf of "the Chinese Community", and it wasn't until the end of the meeting that an obvious yet inconvenient fact was pointed out to them: most of the submissions in favour of the change came from people with Chinese names!

While little extra detail was available (this is still a design brief, not a design, as some people couldn't get through their thick skulls), the Mayor hinted that the most likely location for the Garden would indeed be at the northern or western edges as I speculated earlier. Also, the recommendations (76kB PDF) stipulated that the design will be put out to an invited competition, with the finalists subject to public feedback and a jury decision. Good stuff.

Outer T
Appeals against the Hilton consent will go to the Environment Court in March or April next year. This is going to be a long process.

David Irwin from Isthmus Group gave a short presentation on the revised master plan for the Kumutoto public spaces. These are going ahead quite rapidly now, with services laid and a contractor approved, and work is expected to start in January or February next year, ready for a Christmas '07 finish.

There are two significant changes from the plans that are still shown online: the low jetties that were to have been added beside the promenade have been dropped, and the mouth of the Kumutoto stream has been modified. The former change is partly due to the desire not to overly "domesticate" the wharf, which makes sense since larger vessels would not have been able to dock at the low jetties, and it's good to keep some of the robust industrial feel of a working wharf. I can't quite agree with Irwin when he says that the current ones near Shed 5 are hardly used: I was there at lunchtime yesterday and all the benches were taken by people seeking a sheltered lunch spot. On the other hand, they make more sense in that spot, where the enclosure of the Outer T creates a more intimate scale, than immediately north of there where the tug wharf is more open.

In any case, the extra seating at the stream mouth should make up for it. This includes a cluster of north-facing platforms and jetties stepping down from the Meridian building to the widened stream. Part of the tug wharf promenade will be replaced by a bridge (just slightly narrower than the existing promenade) to mark the stream mouth and create a sense of opening out towards the harbour. The bridge will be supported by a minimalist crane-like structure, partly for engineering reasons but mostly to create a vertical element as a marker along the harbourside promenade.

The Meridian building itself is proceeding rapidly, and looks set to open in September next year, which is earlier than I suggested before. There's still no confirmed tenant for the ground floor space, but Wellington Waterfront is actively negotiating with several potential tenants. It's possible that part of it might become a ticket office for the Eastbourne ferry, given its proximity to the new extended ferry wharf.

Waterloo Quay
MADINZ shop at Waterloo on QuayThere's been a small but encouraging development in what has become the forgotten section of the waterfront between Whitmore St and the Railway Station. The ground floor of the old Shed 21 (now Waterloo on Quay apartments) was always supposed to have been for retail, but its hitherto isolated location has made that difficult and the tenancies have ended up as offices or studios. That's changed just slightly, as MADINZ, a corporate gifts specialist, has opened to the public.

Most of their business has come from government or diplomatic clients, but there's been enough public interest for them to start a quiet little retail operation. Interestingly, they say that they get a lot of business from the Statistics building up in Harbour Quays, and they're expecting more from the new BNZ building when that's complete: a small demonstration of the fact that for retail to thrive on the waterfront, there needs to be people working nearby. Much of their predominantly New Zealand-made stock is quite touristy and available elsewhere, but they apparently have a significant discount, so it could be worth the journey.


At 2:06 pm, December 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I for one appreciate the effort you put into this blog and the suffering you endure to get all this information about my favourite city!

At 11:20 pm, December 13, 2006, Blogger Land Rovers Indoor Football Club said...

Let's face it Waterfront Watch would just build another swamp like Waitangi Park if they had their way - we need progress, we need a decent indoor soccer pitch and it has to be somewhere in the vicinity of Shed 1. And no we're not a narrow interest lobby group - we're a football team.

At 8:25 am, December 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: The Mound by the lagoon, I think its removal at this stage was a mistake, as it stood, you had 3 areas (East, North and Top that were resonably sheltered from the constant "swoosh" of road noise, now the entire area is exposed to both audiably and visually to the road.

A solution would have been some form of Screen planting of "mature" (ie not like waitangi Park) Trees, or some other barrier (concrete or earth berm around 2 metres high to shield the new "green" from the roadway. It would also allow the new Bar in St Johns to "look out" on to the green without the contant visual distaction of the road.

At 9:30 am, December 14, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Land Rovers: Waterfront Watch don't actually like the "swamp" (and the wetland is one of my favourite bits of Waitangi Park): they'd prefer nothing but paddock, with perhaps the odd rose garden or statue of Queen Victoria. Just as long as nothing spoils the view and no-one makes any money out of anything. I agree that some sort of indoor football/netball space should exist somewhere within walking distance of as many CBD workers as possible, but that's not necessarily in the vicinity of Shed 1. With the northward drift of offices, the "centre of gravity" is shifting north of Queens Wharf, so somewhere like Site 10 might be just as good.

Anon: while the detailed plans are being revised, the plan has always included a berm around the Jervois Quay edge, though probably more like 1m than 2m. The current lawn is just an interim measure, and you may be right that it was a bad move to knock it all down now since it will set inaccurate expectations of what's to come. I think they just needed a clean slate to work with, and while the plans were being sorted (including details of the wharenui/wharewaka) they's rather put down some grass seed than have a building site or a dangerous half-mound.


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