Veteran to the rescue

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Finance company calls in Clark as Gold Ridge saviour.

A former prominent local hotelier has been brought in for a second resuscitation of an ailing Queenstown accommodation property.

Penny Clark, who had five years in Queenstown in the 1990s, now runs the 77-room Gold Ridge Hotel for Dorchester Finance, which bought it from the receiver two months ago for $8 million.

The finance company had held a second mortgage securing a loan with a carrying value of $6m that it has written off.

Originally 36 rooms, the mid-range hotel – perched above Frankton Road – opened as part of the ill-fated Harvey Wallbanger chain in 1987.

Set up by notorious Christchurch bankrupt Harry Holt, the chain went to the wall a year later with debts of $30m.
Receivers first appointed the Pacific Park chain to run the hotel before on-selling it.

Five years ago the renamed, enlarged Gold Ridge was picked up for $7.5m by a new-generation Christchurch developer, John Leeder, as part of his $30m spend-up on Queenstown accommodation, which also
in­­cluded neighbouring Sher­­wood Manor.

Like Holt before him, Leeder too is now bankrupt.

Late last year first mortgagee Equitable Finance, owed $7.7m, appointed a receiver. Another Leeder property, Queenstown Lodge, also went bust at the same time.

New owner Dorchester could hardly have chosen anyone more experienced to turn around Gold Ridge’s fortunes.

First appointed a hotel general manager in 1987, Clark came to Queenstown to run the former THC – now Novotel Lakeside – in 1991.

She oversaw its takeover by Southern Pacific Hotel Cor­poration, and for her last two years before leaving she also ran its sister hotel Park­­­royal Queenstown – now Crowne Plaza. Clark left town in 1996.

She recalls hotels were so busy when she left town that she had to break into a friend’s house to find accommodation on her last night: “If we could only have the town full again…”

She’s spent the past 12 years with Heritage Hotel Group, first managing its Christchurch property and latterly as group operations manager.

Clark sees her Gold Ridge role as a two-year project, starting with a facelift – “then I’ll go out and find some business”.

She’s not sure local hotels will enjoy the good times again till Rugby World Cup year, 2011.

“The hotel industry is certainly struggling and if you’re an independent hotel it’s very difficult to survive with the discounting that goes on.”