Queenstown convention centre bunfight looms

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Senior Queenstown councillors are split on whether a major convention centre decision can be made pre-election.

Second-term councillor Cath Gilmour, restanding in next month’s election, says she has plenty of questions on operating and funding models plus dealing with cost over-runs – but no answers.

“There’s questions in terms of how we operate it, who the operator is, who’ll own it, how we mitigate risk, how it’s funded,” Gilmour says, adding she hopes a full council meeting – delayed a week to this coming Tuesday – will satisfy some queries.

“We’ll never have total certainty, but there’s more information required and I doubt we’ll have it.”

Gilmour, in favour of a centre, adds: “I don’t think it’d be right to commit a council coming in in a month to a $50 million project.

“We could get a decision that says we support it subject to passing certain thresholds but for me I don’t think we’ve got that information level.”

Queenstown’s John Mann, a third-term councillor standing down, says he has questions but believes he’ll get enough information: “I want to see what it’d look like as a standalone without a casino, without a hotel and how financials pan out on that – and whether we borrow.

“We can borrow money cheaper than anybody – as opposed to the risk factor being ameliorated and us having to pay somebody else to take that risk on.

“Those sorts of things I expect to get answers on with plenty of time. We mightn’t have all the detail to hand to the next council but critical bits I’m hoping we can settle on Tuesday.”

Wanaka-based deputy mayor Lyal Cocks agrees they’ll have enough: “I think so, based on the type of decision we’re trying to make.”

Mayor Vanessa van Uden says it’s clear after public consultation – which saw 750-plus submissions flood in – more work on funding is needed but she’s comfortable making a decision to go forward in principle before the election.

“I’m not sure why we need to wait till after the election. I don’t know what more you’d need.”

Council chief executive Adam Feeley says whatever’s decided can be changed by an incoming council – unless a binding contract is entered into on Tuesday which is unrealistic.

Feeley says any final agreement with centre backers and operators wouldn’t happen till next year, well after the October 12 election.

However, to start detailed negotiation now with centre backers and an operator will require a location, some funding sources and other parts to be locked down.

“I don’t think anyone could say there’s some vitally missing bit of information we need to wait on.

“We’ve got to accept there are nonetheless gaps. Will the Government definitely make a contribution? Will this thing cost ratepayers $3 million a year or $1m?

“We can’t answer that but until we have a mandate to progress and a model to progress we can’t have a sensible discussion with a potential partner.”

In a council survey, almost 55 per cent supported or strongly supported council leading a convention centre development.