Council rolls the dice on convention centre


Casino giant SkyCity’s front and centre in Queenstown council’s business case for a convention centre - despite talks breaking down two years ago.

The council submitted a business case to the Business Ministry in January, hoping to get a taxpayer handout for its planned $70 million CBD centre.

A copy of the report was quietly placed on the council’s website last week.

Inside are profit estimates - ranging wildly from a $8m profit in the first five years to a possible $6.2m loss - based on whether or not the centre is run by SkyCity and if a rival centre is built at Frankton.

But those assumptions ignore the fact talks broke off long before the report was sent to Wellington.

By March last year a council report admitted discussions with SkyCity “have not resulted in a mutually agreeable option for development of a convention centre”.

SkyCity spin doctor Colin Espiner says this week the discussions were never substantive, did not lead anywhere, and SkyCity hasn’t talked to the council about the project for at least two years.

Council strategic projects boss Paul Speedy accepts SkyCity is out of the picture.

But he claims the assumptions used in the analysis - prepared by consultant Horwath HTL in March 2014 - are still relevant.

The analysis generated a wide range of numbers, and the council has pitched its own operating profit projections at the conservative end of that range, he says.

Another assumption in the report is competition from Remarkables Park’s proposed centre at Frankton.

Speedy: “You could say that Remarkables Park hasn’t advanced their convention centre much either, so why would we include that?

“The upshot of that sensitivity analysis is that it provides a big range.”

The business case considers the most likely outcome is an operating deficit of about $3.2m in the first five years -assuming Remarkables Park never builds its centre.

Espiner isn’t put out by the council’s gamble, saying: “The council’s free to consider any scenario it wishes.”

SkyCity had preliminary discussions with the local council after it issued a request for proposals in 2012.

The following February SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison told the Mountain Scene his hopes for involvement could form part of a wider casino development, comprising VIP gambling suites and a purpose-built luxury hotel with restaurants and bars.