Heavyhitters on board for Queenstown convention centre

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A high-powered consortium has been chosen to advance Queenstown’s convention centre project – on council’s Lakeview site up Man Street.

Queenstown Lakes District Council announced this afternoon (Wednesday) that it has accepted its evaluation panel’s recommendation to enter negotiations with a consortium led by Ngai Tahu Property and public-private infrastructure giant Morrison & Co.

Other heavy-hitters are involved including global design company Populous which has been behind major international projects like London’s O2 Arena, Yankee Stadium in New York and – closer to home – the covered stadium in Dunedin and Eden Park’s Rugby World Cup redevelopment.

Queenstown construction company Naylor Love is also on board along with award-winning Kiwi architecture firm Fearon Hay and project management company RCP.

Casino giant SkyCity Entertainment Group has been picked as the preferred operator, as was tipped in Mountain Scene two weeks ago.

Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden says the selection of a preferred consortium and site are major steps forward.

The next step will involve giving shape to the proposal in order to undertake community consultation through the council Annual Plan process from April, she says.

Van Uden says further work and consultation need to happen before the project could be considered a reality but agreed the proposal had incredible promise.

“With commercially astute investors; architects who have had involvement with everything from Wembley and Eden Park to the new $1 billion Darling Harbour Convention Centre, and local planners and contractors, this pretty much amounts to the ‘dream team’ for Queenstown,” Mayor van Uden says.

Van Uden says the proposal will not only benefit the community and the local economy, but also support the wider national strategy of positioning New Zealand as a whole in the highly lucrative convention centre market.

“We’ve been grateful for the Government’s support to date in developing the project and evaluating the proposals, and we feel sure they’ll continue to see the potential in extending the jewel in New Zealand’s tourism crown to include the business tourism potential offered by Queenstown.”

Nonetheless, Mayor van Uden stresses there’ll be a number of issues which have to be resolved before the council formally commits to the project.

Central to this was the need to bring the community and, in particular the business community, into the loop.

“The community will want to understand what this means for them, and in particular issues such as site location, funding and governance structures.

“Our preferred site at this stage is to use the Lakeview site, which has long been earmarked for development. The site offers world-class lake and mountain views, but is minutes from Queenstown’s heart,” she says.

From a practical perspective, it also offers cost-effective development on a level and large site that can unlock additional value for the council as landowner, and offer further commercial development.

Mayor van Uden says the funding arrangements will be a key factor in the negotiations, but that the preferred party has already indicated a level of funding commitment which significantly exceeded other proposals.

“While there is work to be done on this issue, we believe that we can establish an operating model for the convention centre which will be financially neutral to ratepayers. Any contribution from council will be capped and fully disclosed. That means no surprises for ratepayers.”

The anticipated model envisages a project structure to develop the facility and a separate structure for the leasing and operating of the centre.

“It’s not the intention Council will be involved in either the ownership or operation of a Convention Centre, which is clearly not core council business.”

Mayor van Uden says the benefit to the community and country need to be seen in the short and long term, and therefore, in parallel to the negotiations, the council would be commissioning an economic impact assessment by independent experts.

“The benefits in the first instance will be increased jobs during the construction and operation phases, and in the longer term we expect far wider potential spin-offs for tourism as a whole to the district and New Zealand. The message from business is clear – provided we do it well, the proposed convention centre is regarded as a winner.”

Mayor van Uden says that some critical stages, including public consultation, still lay ahead.

“We are negotiating with astute business people, and none of us will proceed with the investment in a convention centre unless a viable case existed and the community has signalled support for the proposal. However, the quality of the proposal received to date gives us confidence that if the financial viability exists, then we have the best possible partners to unlock that potential,” she says.