Conference curveball Remarks Park plans its own

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A Wakatipu developer has announced plans for a privately-funded Queenstown convention centre – throwing a curveball into the debate.

Remarkables Park issued a statement this afternoon saying it’ll build a centre near its Frankton retail precinct – it’ll seat 650 for dinner and have capacity for 1000 for lecture sessions.

Remarkables Park co-director Alastair Porter says the site’s fully zoned, has no timing constraints and construction can start next year – with it available for use by 2015.

Porter’s announcement comes on the eve of tomorrow’s special meeting of council, scheduled to kiss or kill plans for a proposed council-led convention centre development in downtown Queenstown.

An agenda for that meeting – already delayed a week after a flood of 748 submissions – recommends council proceed with an integrated development on council-owned Lakeview land up Man Street, conditional on Government funding

That proposal has a worst-case cost scenario of $145 per ratepayer.

Back in February council selected a preferred consortium – led by Ngai Tahu Property and Morrison & Co with SkyCity Entertainment Group as preferred operator – to advance a centre proposal.

The Remarkables Park statement says its proposed site would resolve the community’s Convention centre dilemma as it would guarantee the district a Convention Centre, but not require a rates levy to underwrite operations and losses.

Porter adds a Remarkables Park Conference Centre would be based on private equity funding but the company remained open to joint venture capital injections from other private equity, central government and/or local government sources, which would enable a higher specification facility. 

Scene.co.nz wants to ask Porter who the private equity backers are and if he’d be willing to turn up to tomorrow’s council meeting and substantiate the claims in Remarkables Park’s statement, but has been unable to contact him tonight.

Remarkables Park originally submitted a proposal for a convention centre.

“At the time the committee provided us with a debrief we said Remarkables Park would nevertheless develop a Convention Centre albeit on a basis that would not require Council funding,” Porter says in the statement.

“Given councillors are being asked to make an extremely important decision for our community (tomorrow), we recognise we’d be open to criticism if we didn’t provide this information before that meeting.”

Back in December, Mountain Scene revealed that it understood Remarkables Park had lodged a bid with council but Porter wouldn’t comment citing confidentiality clauses.

Prior to that, Porter had never been shy in pushing the view that a centre would be better cited at Frankton than Queenstown.

“If you want to grow the downtown, put a conference centre in the downtown. If you want to grow the downtown even more, and the whole district, then put the conference centre in Frankton,” he said last year.”

Today’s statement by Remarkables Park says the convention centre would be in an area that met all the benefits identified by council but without risks for the community, would still benefit the CBD while its geographical location would be beneficial to the wider district.

Porter says the Remarkables Park site was “fully integrated” with the development of Remarkables Park and Frankton Flats, with amazing views to The Remarkables and Coronet Peak.

The site is located immediately east of the Remarkables Park Town Centre, south of a new confirmed high school, west of a proposed tertiary education development and north of the future Remarkables Quay Resort and Ferry Terminal. It is also appropriately close to the airport, the Hilton hotels, the Remarkables Park future medical precinct, the Lakes District Hospital and other Frankton Flats development.

Porter says a planned water ferry would in the future make a “memorable experience” for delegates travelling in and out of the CBD and through the Frankton Arm, landing in the heart of the CBD at O’Regans Wharf.

In any event he said he thought it highly unlikely anyone coming to a conference would not visit downtown Queenstown.

The design will also provide a large exhibition area, smaller break-out rooms, and can be easily expanded to cater for future growth as the site is large enough.

Remarkables Park said the company had invested a significant amount of money engaging leading international and national conference centre experts to help put together its comprehensive bid to the Conference Committee in December 2012, and it had always been its intention to use this research and expert team to support a more cost-effective, privately-funded alternative project if necessary.

“We recognise that timing is important for Queenstown, not only as there’s strong competition from Australia for conference venues but proposals for Auckland and Christchurch will also provide stiff competition,” Porter says.

“We believe the quicker we can open this conference facility, the better this will be for Queenstown.

“It’ll build loyalty for Queenstown as a conference destination and should also work for Auckland and Christchurch as a lead generator for future larger conferences in those cities.

“We believe today’s announcement has many positive benefits for the wider Queenstown-Lakes District community.”