Departing mayor Clive Geddes is calling on Queenstowners to seriously question the resort’s future direction.
In a candid exit interview, Geddes – whose nine-year reign ends tomorrow – says he believes Queenstown needs to change the type of visitor coming here.
“There’s a debate we don’t have – well not often enough – which is ‘what’s our ambition?’
“Potentially there could be four million visitors [a year] by 2025 – the question we’re not asking ourselves is ‘Is that what we want?’”
Geddes says backpackers are the growth market, which has changed the face of downtown accommodation and nightlife.
“I’m not saying any of this is unhealthy. What I’m saying is that’s the trendline we’re on and the community has to ask if that’s how it sees its future.”
Geddes says part of the answer lies in revisiting his greatest disappointment – the previous council’s decision to ditch a megabucks Remarkables Centre, with a performing and visual arts hub.
The project – estimated at one point to have ballooned to a potential $140 million spend – was entirely canned three years ago when the economy started to sour.
“There were elements that could have proceeded that would have enabled the community to start changing what Queenstown had to offer.
“One of the things we have to do is change the reason visitors come so we can change the type of visitor. I saw that centre as being a very important part of that.
“I was really disappointed – but like anything, you have to move on.”
Geddes says retaining and expanding big events is key to future success.
New windfall dividends – estimated to be $2 million annually – from the controversial Queenstown Airport share sale should be put into a community events fund, he suggests.
Queenstown Lakes District Council is the majority shareholder of the airport, which has sold a 24.99 per cent stake to Auckland International Airport for $27.7 million.
Geddes says an events fund could help retain and grow the Winter Games and golf’s New Zealand Open at The Hills near Arrowtown, which are significant economic drivers.
With local government needing to focus on rates affordability and central government pushing for councils to get back to core business “there’s just not the slack in the system” for events funding, he adds.
“If the community could get through focusing on the nature of the airport transaction and focus on the outcome it can take and determine for itself a dividend stream of $2m a year.”
Geddes supports phase two of the airport deal – a potential further sell-off of up to 35 per cent which means Auckland could block major transaction resolutions at QAC’s board table.
“Auckland is not likely to be there to try and undermine QAC. Any major transaction not in the interests of the minority shareholder would generally not be in the interests of the majority shareholder either.”
Geddes, who won his first term in 2001 on a platform of transparency, says he doesn’t feel he let himself down by agreeing to a confidential briefing a week prior to the deal going public.
“The directors are appointed to manage the affairs in the best interests of the company and the shareholders. They were doing that.
“I wish it had happened in 2001 when I became mayor. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”
Geddes, 65, says he has no job lined up but plans to stay in the Lakes District.