Gardens a conference centre option

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The Gardens ice rink is a controversial new contender for the site of Queenstown’s urgently-needed major conference centre. 

Former New Zealand ice hockey captain Simon Glass, a Queens­town building firm co-director, floated the surprise idea to the conference centre working party last Thursday. 

Glass suggested redeveloping the under-sized rink into a state-of-the-art convention centre and building a world-class ice rink next to the Events Centre swimming pool. 

A heat exchange would both warm the pool and freeze the ice, he told the working party. 

Working party member Sir Eion Edgar says the rink would be a fantastic site for a conference centre.

“I think it’d be wonderful, and the sort of people going there would love to utilise the Gardens – it’s not in the Gardens itself, it’s down that [far] end.” 

Edgar says it now joins a shortlist of CBD sites. 

The other three are the council-owned Gorge Rd carpark, council’s Stanley Street land and a privately-owned Man St site. 

“We’ve got four strong possibilities,” Edgar says. 

Mayor Vanessa van Uden set up the working party last August, after lobbying by business interests who were concerned the resort misses out on 500-plus capacity conferences. 

Van Uden last week announced a feasibility study will be done to establish demand for a conference centre. 

“Those numbers will also play a part in the final site selection,” she said. 

Glass – a shareholder/director of building firm Cook Brothers Construction Southern Lakes – says the existing rink could be redeveloped as a conference centre without the need to demolish it and start again, saving both time and money. 

The site also offers sensational lakefront views of the Remarkables, has significant carparking and is close to hotels and amenities, he says. 

Expansion plans for the nearby jetty also mean people could arrive by boat, for example from the Hilton Hotel.
Wearing his sports hat – Glass has been a member of the Ice Blacks for the past 11 years and captain for six – he says a new Events Centre rink would attract professional international teams to train and play. 

“These teams would value having multiple facilities under the same roof.” 

Glass, 30, says he got his idea after hearing a speech by Prime Minister John Key last June, when he urged Queens­town to build a conference centre. 

Mike Lynch, spokesman for the Friends of the Queenstown Gardens and Reserves, calls Glass’ proposal “bloody awful”. 

“People such as the redoubtable Margaret Temple­ton and others fought for decades to preserve the Gardens from commercial development and this seems nothing if not a commercial development.” 

The rink is on recreation reserve that was hived off from the Gardens in the 1950s, but Lynch says “to all intents and purposes it is the Gardens”. 

“At least the ice rink, even though it’s commercial, does sort of have a leisure purpose,” he says. 

“A conference centre is hardly recreation.” 

Queenstowner Neil Clayton, former chairman of the now-disbanded Gardens protection group, The Guardians, says: 

“My initial thought is it would be overkill for a quite restricted site.”