Council ‘taking our business away’: Iconic Wellington cafe asked to shut shop

Wellington cafe Nikau says it was notified only a day before City Gallery Wellington publicly announced its closure – a move that will likely mean the end of the iconic business of over 20 years.

On Tuesday the gallery said it would shut sooner than planned after learning in March that the main access way to the building – which the gallery shares with Nikau cafe – would be blocked when demolition of the Civic Administration Building (CAB) began in June.

Nikau cafe director Shelley Addison said the news was a “bolt from the blue”.

“Our initial conversations have always been that we had another year. It was going to be 2025. This was giving us time to look at ways that we could pivot, so really this has been very, very short notice.

“[They’re] just asking us to shut up shop and they’re just literally taking our business away from us. We’ve survived Covid, we’ve survived through everything, we’ve just hung in there and [they’re] just telling us ‘tough luck’,” Addison said.

Formerly a focal point at the heart of the capital’s central business district, Te Ngākau Civic Square had become surrounded by ongoing construction.

Wellington Library closed for earthquake strengthening in 2019, robbing the area of its nearly 1.3 million annual visitors.

While across the square the rebuild of the Town Hall had been pushed back to 2027 as costs ballooned to a potential $329 million.

Both the Michael Fowler Centre and the City to Sea walk bridge also faced expensive strengthening work.

Nikau cafe and the City Gallery stood as the last remaining point of attraction to the area but with the CAB demolition expected to take until February 2025 – before redevelopment could begin – the former hub looked set to become little more than an isolated chasm in the heart of the city.

Addison said the business planned to stay on the site until “the bitter end” but access to the cafe had been decimated by the work and the closure of nearby streets.

“[Council] have gone publicly and said they were going to help with relocation. We’ve had no offers of tangible support, it’s all been done through lawyers,” Addison said.

Wellington City Council owned the building that houses City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi. In turn, City Gallery Wellington subleased the cafe space to Nikau cafe.

Addison said the relationship with City Gallery had deteriorated since they were forced to fight eviction when they were given a month’s notice to strip the site during the Christmas break.

“The council are very quick to say that – as a subtenant of the gallery – that’s who we should be dealing with but the reality is that when we have had discussions – in terms of lease arrangement – it’s been with the council legal team. So really it’s the council that’s calling the tune here.

“No one’s walked into the cafe and said, ‘we’re letting you know what’s going to happen’. When the library closed we actually had the mayor come and tell us.

“There’s been so much flip-flopping around the narrative, around the conversations, around us having to engage our lawyers to be involved with things.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a lot of trust about what we’re being told because there’s been so many changes and you can become very cynical about what is the real intent,” Addison said.

Cafe accused of refusing to meet with council

The WWC website said Experience Wellington operated the gallery ‘on behalf’ of the council.

In a statement to RNZ, Wheako Pōneke Experience Wellington chief executive Diana Marsh said Experience Wellington was “a council controlled organisation and charity, and is independent from council”.

She said the cafe had refused offers to meet with Experience Wellington since February.

“We have a long history of discussing the gallery’s potential closure with Nikau cafe, first signalling likely disruption in December 2022 in light of Council’s plans for Te Ngākau. We have been communicating regularly since then including inviting Nikau cafe to sit down face to face to discuss plans in late February 2024. We have repeated this offer several times and have continued to keep them informed in writing as the situation develops,” Marsh said.

Marsh said the Gallery had supported the cafe by providing rent relief and paying for pest control “despite consistent short and late payments from the cafe owners” reiterating a statement made by Experience Wellington Acting Chief Executive Carolyn Mettrick to the Dominion Post in February.

Addison acknowledged there had been an oversight of payment in January but said all arrears relating to that had been addressed.

She said the cafe had also withheld April’s rent while the parties were in dispute.

“The lease that we entered into is so drastically different 1714646414.

“We’ve got no parking, road closures and the closing off of entry and exit points. They might tell us that all this destruction is happening but their expectation is that we still pay full rent and that is not sustainable.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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