Mayor bullish on centre’s private funding

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Back in December, new Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Adam Feeley was buoyant on private funding for a local convention centre. 

Potential existed for a significant part of the cost to be met by private equity, he told Mountain Scene then. 

No doubt his bullish talk was based on discussions at that stage with those interested in putting up proposals. 

“We’re starting to get a sense of confidence that this is a commercially viable proposition,” he said at the time. 

Now council has selected a preferred consortium led by Ngai Tahu Property and Morrison & Co, mayor Vanessa van Uden sounds equally confident. 

“What I’m hoping is we’ll be able to work it so in terms of construction there’s limited and minimal financial contribution,” Van Uden says. 

“There’s a business case that needs to be made so we may need – as a community and business community – to play our part giving people some comfort in terms of initial years of underwriting.” 

Last year, Mountain Scene revealed a feasibility study on a potential 750-delegate centre and its projected costs – at that stage $43.7 million – suggested $17.5 million come from Queenstown’s council, plus Otago and Southland regional councils. 

Asked how that $17.5m figure, in a report by Horwath HTL and WT Partnership, was now looking, Van Uden says: “I can’t tell you categorically it’s not going to look like that. There are no guarantees. 

“I can tell you it’s not going to look like that without going to the community to have a say about it. 

“But I’m hopeful it won’t look like that – and I’m a lot more hopeful now than I ever was when we had the Horwath report.” 

Van Uden says as far as the consortium selected is concerned it’s got good conference centre experience and there’s an “interest in terms of investment that I secretly hoped for”. 

“That’s the really exciting bit – that we might just get this to happen.” 

Casino giant SkyCity Entertainment Group, which recently took full ownership of SkyCity Queenstown, is the preferred operator – but Van Uden won’t comment on their other plans for such a convention centre site. 

“We’re talking about a convention centre at the moment and that is all.” 

Two weeks ago SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison told Mountain Scene hopes for involvement in a Queenstown centre could form part of a wider casino development, comprising VIP gambling suites and a purpose-built luxury hotel with restaurants and bars. 

The local investment from SkyCity would likely be tens of millions of dollars, Morrison said. 

Van Uden wants community feedback but to get the ball rolling if a Queenstown centre is to open before one in Auckland or Christchurch is built: “There’s been talk for I don’t know how long about the need for a conference centre. We’re closer than we’ve ever been and we need to grab this and run with it – but we need to see the community run with it.”

Unveiling the major players behind conference consortium 

The investors
Morrison & Co PIP Fund: Established in 2009 to invest in public-private partnerships in NZ and Australia. A long-term fund with a ‘buy and hold’ philosophy. Cornerstone investor in NZ Superannuation Fund. Committed capital of $176.5 million. Fund is managed by infrastructure investment manager Morrison & Co which has assets under management of more than $5 billion. 

The leaders
Ngai Tahu Property: Prominent business owned by South Island iwi Ngai Tahu with a market value nearing $500m. Developed the $30m Post Office Precinct in Queenstown CBD, 2006-2009, including a new courts building. Converted former courthouse into 1876 Bar & Restaurant. Also developed Queenstown Medical Centre complex on Isle Street. Owns Queenstown police station. 

The builders
Naylor Love Construction: New Zealand’s third largest construction company, founded in 1910. Has a huge history in Queenstown. Local projects include several buildings in Remarkables Park Shopping Centre, the Ngai Tahu Post Office Precinct, some of the Kawarau Falls Station project, Alpine Aqualand and Remarkables Primary. About 75 staff in Queenstown Lakes district. 

The designers
Populous: A global design practice with more than 300 staff based around the world. Projects include Dunedin’s roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium, New York’s Yankee Stadium, the London 2012 Stadium, Sydney Convention Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct, Delhi Convention Centre, Auckland’s Eden Park Redevelopment and Qatar National Convention Centre expansion. 

The architects
Fearon Hay: An Auckland firm of award-winning architects Tim Hay and Jeff Fearon. Has designed four buildings short-listed for World Architecture Festivals including ‘Mountain Retreat’ house on Queenstown’s Glenorchy Road overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Other projects include Auckland’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and Blenheim’s Brancott Estate Heritage Centre. 

The project managers
RCP: A major NZ project management consultancy. Major recent projects include Christchurch’s AMI Temporary Stadium and Blueprint Plan for the Recovery of Central Christchurch, both last year, and Auckland’s Eden Park Redevelopment and Rugby World Cup Overlay and Queens Wharf Redevelopment and Cloud Fabric Structure, which were both completed in 2011. 

The planning experts
Southern Planning Group: A small Queenstown resource management planning consultancy. Its projects include planning for Jack’s Point Lodge, Glenorchy’s huge Aro Ha Wellness & Health Retreat, Matakauri Lodge redevelopment, Church Street backpackers and offices, Man Street underground carparking building, Glenorchy’s Wyuna lifestyle subdivision and QRC House. 

The numbers guys
WT Partnership: NZ quantity surveyors and construction cost consultants with a satellite office in Queenstown. Big projects include Christchurch’s AMI Temporary Stadium, the Blueprint Plan for the Recovery of Central Christchurch, Auckland’s Eden Park Redevelopment, Queens Wharf redevelopment, Vector Indoor Arena, Britomart Transport Centre and Auckland Art Gallery restoration.