Council pushes convention centre along – despite ‘elephant in the room’

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Queenstown Lakes District councillors have pushed a proposed $55.5 million convention centre for Queenstown to its next stage.

While the “yes” vote at yesterday’s meeting only goes as far as putting big capital spending item into the draft annual plan, allowing the public to have their say, there’s no doubting councillors’ enthusiasm to keep the ball rolling on the long-debated project.

Councillors, meeting in Wanaka yesterday, got a unanimous thumbs-up from the business community on the convention centre even before its own discussion began.

Representatives from the Wanaka and Queenstown chambers of commerce used the public forum to endorse the plan for the centre on the council’s Lakeview site in Queenstown and also the council’s financial plan to have ratepayers that benefit the most pay the most in rates.

Queenstown chamber chief executive Ann Lockhart told councillors downtown Queenstown would benefit and she congratulated the council “on getting this important project to this point”.

A small contingent of Queenstown businessmen also endorsed the plan, including representatives of property-owning companies Skyline Enterprises and Westwood Group Holdings.

Westwood director Johnny Stevenson said he’d bedisappointed if the project stopped at this stage.

Richard Hanson, of Aotea Group, believed it was important for commercial tenants – likely to end up paying the higher rates through higher rents – that the centre attracted more higher spenders.

Well-known financial adviser Martin Hawes said a resounding yes to the convention centre was required if the district was to attract high-value tourists.

Hawes said assessing risk was one of the most important parts of his business: ”Nothing ever happens without someone taking a risk, and doing nothing is also taking a risk.”

Mayor Vanessa van Uden opened the council discussion by noting the centre had been three years in gestation and the point had been reached where the public could see the likely impact on them. 

Van Uden added the council was aware of war stories over the building of new facilities in other communities and described the council’s centre proposal as conservative.

“One of the things we can do continually is eliminate risk, but there is no way there is going to be no risk.”

Van Uden said the council was not at the point of starting to “dig holes” for the centre but was preparing to talk to the community.

Cr Cath Gilmour, who abstained from the vote to put the project into the draft annual plan, said the “elephant in the room” was potential competition from a privately funded convention centre proposed for the Remarkables Park development at Frankton. 

Gilmour wondered if the council might have underestimated the Frankton proposal.

Council chief executive Adam Feeley responded that those behind the Frankton proposal had ”shared” very limited information. 

Feeley said he considered the scale and location of the Frankton proposal would not draw international conferences.

It was “more of the same” already on offer in the Wakatipu Basin rather than a step change represented by the council’s proposal, Feeley added.

Aside from Cr Gilmour, all councillors voted for the centre proposal to go into the draft annual plan. – Otago Daily Times