Arts complex plans


Local developers have revealed an architect’s plans for an “affordable” arts and conference centre in Queenstown.

Approached by Mountain Scene, commercial property king John Martin says the new centre could go above the Man Street carpark – at a fraction the cost of Queens­town Lakes District Council’s most recent Town Hall plans for Stanley St.

Martin co-owns “air rights” above the carpark with prominent fellow businessmen John Darby and Mike Davies.
QLDC’s Town Hall plans were shelved two years ago after cost-blowout warnings exceeded $140 million – but the Think Big dream remains on the backburner.

Martin reckons his alternative – a generous-sized conference centre, exhibition space, 750-seat auditorium, small theatre and art gallery – could be put up for $25m-$30m.

“All we’re trying to do is facilitate what the community has indicated they need,” Martin says.

The centre could be owned and operated by the community but funded by a public/private partnership, he suggests.

“We’re not in it to do it for nothing but we’re not out for a normal commercial return either.”

He ticks off site advantages – the carpark, which Martin co-developed, that’s under-utilised at night, CBD proximity, and “fabulous views” by using glass in a design by Christchurch architect Kerry Mason.

The Mason design, in which only two out of three levels would be visible above ground, complies with the district plan, Martin adds.

Rich Listers Sir Eion Edgar and Michael Hill, both local arts patrons, embrace Martin’s concept.

“When it’s a fifth the price of the other plans, it makes economic sense,” Edgar says.

“There are a lot of affluent people in this region – if any area in New Zealand could raise money for a community good, it’s Queenstown.”

Hill says Queenstown’s chronically short of a decent venue but believes QLDC is shirking its responsibilities.
An arts centre “doesn’t need to cost a fortune”, Hill says.

Don’t dream it’s over

Sometimes you just can’t get something out of your head – and that’s the way it looks with Queenstown mayor Clive Geddes and his Town Hall complex.

In 2007 a councillor appeared to kill Geddes’s “Remarkables Centre”, by warning it could blow out by $50 million.

Now the carpark/playhouse/auditorium/conference centre combo rears its head again – in Queenstown Lakes District Council’s new annual report.

Revealing a “workshop” on the Remarkables Centre was held in 2008, the report adds “further workshops are planned, however no financial provision has been made for this project”.

Ratepayers shouldn’t breathe easily – “workshops” are secret pow-wows between councillors and QLDC staff to get informal agreement on hot topics before going public.

First revealed by Mountain Scene in 2002, the Geddes Think Big idea was launched in 2003 – an architectural contest would be held for a $48m complex on Stanley Street, twice the length of Steamer Wharf. A design was chosen but by August 2007, council boss Duncan Field admitted the cost was probably $90m.

Two weeks later, outgoing councillor Rick Pettit – then QLDC’s “minister of finance” – dropped his bombshell, saying the cost could top $140m because the number-crunching “appears to have been done by an amateur”.

Despite hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent, the Town Hall project was quietly shelved. Until now.

-Frank Marvin