No casino deal for Queenstown – mayor

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Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden stressed no deal has been done for a casino in a lively Q&A session on the convention centre.

More than 130 business people and councillors thrashed through the issues surrounding the proposed $50 million development earlier this afternoon.

They were told:

– No deal has been done with preferred operator SkyCity Entertainment Group for a casino.

– Any casino on site would require a change in legislation.

– $3.2 million a year for 25 years would be the maximum exposure for ratepayers for the building cost, worst case scenario.

– – but would require district plan change or resource consent.

– Calls for a referendum should be included in submissions during the consultation stage and would be considered.

– Any hotel onsite would be boutique, smaller than 100 rooms.

Organised by Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, the hour-long session at Queenstown Memorial Centre saw the resort’s business people fire questions at a panel consisting of mayor Vanessa van Uden, council boss Adam Feeley, John Shellekens of consultants CBRE and Roger Wigglesworth, director of tourism at the Ministry of Economic Development.

CBRE prepared the overview report on the options and analysis for the centre, which formed the basis of public consultation launched yesterday.

Van Uden says: “There’s been quite a lot of assumption that the deal has already been done with the casino, so let’s get that out on the table loud and clear now, there has not been a deal done with SkyCity.

“They were one of the consortium members in terms of operating the convention centre, there have been some subsequent discussions but certainly not a deal done.”

Van Uden also read out a statement from SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison (below) and then added: “On the consultation papers in the specific questions we have asked people to actually rate how they feel about a casino.

“So we want to get that feedback – there is no predetermined position or thought and we want to hear what people feel about it.”

Asked whether there would be a referendum on the convention centre, Van Uden says: “At the moment the council has made a decision to go out to consultation.

“We have not made a decision to hold a referendum. My suggestion to the people who may want one is to write it in the submissions and if that’s what the community wants then we can consider it.”

A consortium including Ngai Tahu Property, Morrison & Co and casino operator SkyCity Entertainment Group has been named preferred developer and operator.

Adam Feeley says a casino is mentioned frequently in the consultation document because: “we have a high and low model – the high model is where there is no additional commercial return and the cost of capital is public funded more or less in its entirety.

“The other model is what would produce the biggest and best return in terms of reducing that public exposure…and CBRE analysis shows if you want to get the biggest bang for your buck a casino is the best.”

Feeley says there’s a whole spectrum of options in between.

Van Uden says it is her intention that a final decision is made by this council. The local government elections are October 12.

Former mayor Warren Cooper says: “Would you be surprised if I said I’m astounded that you believe you can make a decision on such a huge issue before the election?

“Would you be surprised if I said you haven’t got five per cent of the information you need and you have no idea whatsoever where your funds are coming from?

“You cannot rush into this, you have no framework of secure money and have not yet gained the support of the many people who don’t think this is a priority, and you should not be surprised to note they won’t want this rammed down their throat.”

Mayor Van Uden says: “There’s a simple answer to that Warren: no I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you think all those things.

“At this point in time the council has made a decision to go out to consultation on the options because we want to hear what the community has to say. You’re presupposing that the decision will be yes, and we’re going to do it tomorrow.”

Penny Clark, Tourism Industry Association Queenstown hotels regional chairwoman, expressed her members’ concerns that any convention centre would come with a new hotel on the site.

Feeley says there are a lot of options on the table but “at least in the short term, the only hotel being considered, at least with the consortium we’re discussing it with at the moment, is a very small hotel – we’re talking 60-100 rooms, six staff. And quite a distinct offering to what is generally offered.”

Feeley says the Horwarth HTL (consultancy) report envisaged a convention centre would fill the current hotel capacity if on average people using it stayed three nights out of seven.

“The hotel industry should be saying in fact whether there is a hotel built at Lakeview or not, in all probability not tomorrow but certainly within a five-10 year time frame there will be lots more hotels built because there will be lots more demand for it,” Feeley says.

The $50m does not include infrastructure works in the town possibly needed, except around the site itself.

Other questions concerned effects on the proposed by-pass, which would not be scrapped, the size of the centre, funding models and infrastructure costs.

Comments from Penny Clark that the convention centre was a “fantastic opportunity” were greeted with a round of applause from most in the room, and one or two boos.

A summary and reports are available online at www.qldc.govt.nz.

Consultation will close on August 31. A brochure will be delivered to every household and there will also be a telephone survey.

SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison statement:

“SkyCity has a long standing presence in Queenstown and we believe that this convention centre project will benefit Queenstown by providing increased high value tourism, local jobs and economic growth.

“SkyCity is a proven convention centre operator currently operating New Zealand’s largest convention centre.

“We remain keen to explore opportunities both with the council as it finalises its sites and plans and with the developers and financial partners who will underwrite the development.

“Queenstown offers a very attractive destination for our high-end VIP clientele, particularly from China and Asia, and that is why we have continued to invest in our business here.

“We are keen to ensure that over the medium term we have an entertainment offering that meets their expectations.

“Given this SkyCity is prepared to consider an investment in an associated entertainment complex including restaurants, bars, a boutique high-end hotel and our Horizon VIP casino entertainment.

“However, at this stage we haven’t serious progressed such an opportunity.”