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Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau admits secrecy around cinema deal went on too long

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 26 Feb 2024, 11:22AM
The Reading Cinema building was closed in early 2019 after an earthquake risk was discovered. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Reading Cinema building was closed in early 2019 after an earthquake risk was discovered. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau admits secrecy around cinema deal went on too long

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 26 Feb 2024, 11:22AM

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has admitted the secrecy around the $32 million Reading Cinema deal went on for too long.

The deal is finally set to be discussed in public later this week after every councillor the Herald spoke to on Saturday indicated support for it to be aired.

The cinema building was closed in early 2019 after an earthquake risk was discovered and it has since become a symbol of the tired state of Courtenay Pl - a street that has traditionally been a key part of the nightlife and entertainment offering in Wellington.

The deal has always been discussed behind closed doors to protect commercial sensitivity but details were first leaked in October 2023 and have since been widely circulated in the public domain.

The council plans to buy the land beneath the building for $32m, money which the cinema chain would use to strengthen the building and reopen the cinema and later have the option of buying the land back at the sale price, the Herald understands.

A $43,000 independent code of conduct investigation launched by Whanau into five councillors found there was insufficient evidence to identify who leaked the confidential information.

Newstalk ZB Wellington Mornings host Nick Mills asked Whanau whether she regretted keeping the deal so secret.

“I think in the early days for the first couple of weeks due to the sensitivity of the negotiations, and it was commercially sensitive, I think that was appropriate”, Whanau said.

“But it went on a bit too long and I would have liked to have announced it quite closely after we put it through council.”

Whanau said she was very much open to the deal finally being discussed in public.

“A lot of misinformation has been put out there. There’s a narrative that’s developed which is unfortunate but I’m still very confident in this project.”

As to where the deal was at, Whanau said there were a couple more legal contracts to be put through.

Whanau said she genuinely thought Wellingtonians would be happy with the deal.

“The reality is we’ve got this monstrosity of a building on Courtenay Place. It’s derelict. For me, it’s a symbol of where Courtenay Place is heading. We need that to be redeveloped and this will do that.”

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.

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