Queenstown’s proposed $70 million convention centre isn’t dead, the new council boss says.
Mike Theelen’s been in the hot seat just over two weeks after replacing Adam Feeley.
In his first media interview in the job, he tells Mountain Scene the controversial convention centre project, which was seen as Feeley’s baby in some quarters, has not been abandoned.
Theelen also sees it as an investment in Queenstown’s economy.
Unlike Feeley, though, he has no plans to start his three-year reign by swinging the axe on council staff.
And he wants to work with developers on infrastructure - if they put their hands in their pockets. On a convention centre, Theelen says: “I think it definitely does still have a future, absolutely.
“It’s got to be affordable, though, and benefit the community.”
“It will be council’s decision but at this stage it’s moving forward with Plan Change 50 [rezoning the necessary land] and the convention centre.”
Six months ago councillors voted to defer progress on development of the Lakeview area - with a convention centre at its heart - until $26.7m in external capital funding was locked in.
Last week both Central Lakes Trust and Community Trust of Southland turned down requests for grants totalling $10m.
No funding has been confirmed to date and the status of council’s funding proposal to central government is unknown.
Theelen says: “In terms of priority, it sits there alongside things such as our spatial land needs, how are we going to address long-term transportation strategies and housing affordability.
“The convention centre’s different in that it’s quite a distinct project.
“But elements of growth, transport and visitor numbers all interact with the convention centre as well.”
He says a convention centre would support “one of the biggest economic drivers in our district, which is tourism”.
On council staffing levels, Theelen says: “I’m not going to swing the axe.
“I’ve not come in with the desire or intention for radical change.
“Nor has the council employed me to do that.
“There’s been some quite severe change and the focus now is on bedding that structure in and making it as effective as it can be.”
Major developer Alastair Porter plans to build a rival convention centre at Remarkables Park.
He’s been at loggerheads for years with the council over various projects and last week criticised its infrastructure delivery.
Last week he told Mountain Scene the council should build roads to spur development.
Delays to the eastern access road to Remarkables Park have been a particular bone of contention.
Theelen says: “I want to work positively with developers to enable development to occur but in a way that benefits the whole community.
“You’re asking the community to fund a lot of that stuff up front.”
Theelen says development contributions only come into council coffers at the end of projects.
“So what’s the opportunity to share those costs? If developments are going ahead what’s the opportunity to come to funding agreements to allow it to happen perhaps quicker than the community is in a position to deliver it?”
The former Christchurch City Council chief planning officer, 55, is being paid $305,000 a year, the same as Feeley.
He was chosen from a shortlist of eight candidates drawn together by head hunters Rothleys.