Queenstown convention centre clash

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Queenstown’s council boss is accusing those trumpeting a proposed Frankton convention centre of “apparent lack of concern” for the resort’s best interests.

Developer Alastair Porter, a key figure in the Remarkables Park precinct at Frankton, continues to claim he can make a privately-funded centre there a reality.

At the same time, Queenstown Lakes District Council is leading a separate proposal in Queenstown.

This week, Porter says not only can his Porter Group get funding, it’s assembled a team to progress things – and they’ve been researching in Australia and Auckland.

Porter’s team is Queenstown project management company Triple Star, Dunedin architectural firm Mason and Wales, Queenstown engineers Holmes Consulting and quantity surveyors Rider Levitt and Bucknall, he says.

Triple Star owner Peter Campbell tells Mountain Scene he’s been working on it for more than two months: “It’s all happening, it’s going ahead. All of us went to research trips to Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland about six weeks ago.”

The supposed operator of a Frankton centre isn’t as bullish – Porter tells Mountain Scene he asked hotel giant Hilton if they’d be prepared to manage it and “they said yes, more than interested”. 

However, Hilton Queenstown boss Andrew Nisbet says they’ll be interested if it’s a centre with an associated hotel: “If he builds a standalone conference centre, we’re not going to manage that.

“We have hotels [worldwide] linked with conference centres, they tend to be part of the hotels… linked via walkways or bridges or they’re actually in the hotel complex, they’re not standalone.”

Porter says he has elevation drawings by an architect done for the site but won’t share them with Mountain Scene, however claims he’s hoping to apply for resource consent in March or April and start building by October in anticipation of a late-2015 opening.

Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Adam Feeley, who back in September described Porter’s centre claims as “laughable”, says: “Overall, what is frustrating about [the Frankton] proposal is an apparent lack of concern for what is in Queenstown’s best interests.

“They have significant landholding at Frankton Flats, so a centre will no doubt be good for future property sales for them.

“However, we have some of Australasia’s best experts all saying that the success of the convention centre, and in turn Queenstown economy, demands that it is centrally located,” Feeley says.

“If we thought for one minute a centre could operate successfully elsewhere we’d happily support it, but equally the project is simply too important for the economic future of the district to compromise its success by choosing the wrong location.”

Asked if talking up a centre could be seen as a way of boosting tenant’s confidence and future land sales, Porter says: “I don’t think talking about a centre is likely to push much in the way of land sales.”

Porter adds there’s “an element of philanthropy to what we’re doing” in terms of helping ease a centre’s inevitable financial burden on ratepayers.

Feeley last week told councillors involving preferred operator SkyCity Entertainment Group in the council-led proposal – with the opportunity of relocating its two local casino licences to the site – would be a “silver bullet” in terms removing the “vast bulk” of capital, development and ongoing operating risk from council.

Last week’s council agenda noted “the interest/commitment from SkyCity is unknown” – and it comes after a council survey showed 43 per cent opposed or strongly opposed a relocated casino at the site, compared with 25 per cent in support or strongly in support.

Council has a heavyweight consortium to progress it’s proposal – with Ngai Tahu Property and infrastructure giant Morrison & Co in leading roles, joined by specialist centre architectural firm Populous, architects Fearon Hay, building firm Naylor Love and project managers RCP.

Queenstown’s council, which has a centre master-plan with space set aside for a hot pools complex, has asked for financial options and a rates impact analysis by March.