Queenstown’s council candidates front up on convention centre


All the council election hopefuls standing for a Queenstown-Wakatipu ward seat are in favour of a proposed convention centre – bar one.

Self-employed lawyer Bryce Whiting is the only candidate who answered “no” to a question in this week’ Mountain Scene election questionnaire which asked if those standing supported a proposed centre.

Whiting, one of 14 people battling for six seats, gave a quote from United States property mogul Donald Trump as his reason why, reciting: “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, then you are dead.”

The rest of the candidates – except for Al Angus of Glenorchy who didn’t answer any of the questions – all gave a centre the thumbs up, though support from some was qualified.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council candidates, to be elected early next month, will ultimately decide whether a conference centre backed by council goes ahead in the Wakatipu or not.

Last week, the existing council resolved to lead a centre proposal on council-owned Lakeview land up Man Street in Queenstown as part of an integrated development across the five hectare site.

That is dependent on the Government chipping in plus other conditions being met like a preferred rating model.

The council’s proposed $50 million centre has a worst-case scenario that sees ratepayers saddled with an average bill of $145 annually.

Of the candidates in favour, community advocate Merv Aoake, broadcaster Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson, sitting councillor Cath Gilmour, lawyer Nicola Vryenhoek and former council accountant Angus Welsh all qualified their support depending on the rates impact.

Options for decreasing the ratepayer contribution include bringing in SkyCity Entertainment Group as operator with a relocated casino and developing an associated entertainment and residential development on the site.

As for whether SkyCity – the council’s preferred operator – should take the reigns, Whiting and incumbent councillor Mel Gazzard were the only ones to give a flat-out no to that suggestion in Mountain Scene’s election Q&A.

“A responsible local authority should not be a party to the promotion of a legalised vice,” Whiting says.

Ferguson said he was yet to be convinced and not comfortable with the gambling association while Gilmour said “preferably not”, pointing out community and convention organisers seemed against it.

Seven of those standing for the Wakatipu-Queenstown ward were in favour of a SkyCity-run centre - including mayoral incumbent Vanessa van Uden.

Ratepayers won’t have to cough a cent if developer Alastair Porter can follow through on his claims that Porter Group can organise a privately-funded centre at Frankton by 2015. However, Queenstown boss Adam Feeley has called Porter’s claims for a centre “laughable” and “impossible”.

DON’T MISS the five-page election coverage special in Mountain Scene.

SkyCity convention centre – yes/no & why…See where your council hopefuls stand:

SEVEN – say yes (Merve Aoake, Alexa Forbes, John Glover, Warwick Stalker, Trevor Tattersfield, Angus Welsh and Vanessa van Uden)
TWO – say no (Mel Gazzard, Bryce Whiting)
TWO – give a ‘qualified’ no (Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson, Cath Gilmour)
THREE – fencesitters (Fiona McArthur, Simon Stamers-Smith, Nicola Vryenhoek)

AL ANGUS:  Refused to answer.
MERV AOAKE:  Yes for the reasons above as long as we retain a total of only two casino sites.
CRAIG ‘FERG’ FERGUSON:  Yet to be convinced. Not comfortable with the gambling association. Interested to know Ngai Tahu position on this issue.

ALEXA  FORBES:  A qualified yes from me. Bigger casino is clearly unpopular. If we can understand value of casino visitors and can be convinced our social problems won’t increase, we might collectively agree. 

MEL GAZZARD:  No. Gambling and conventions in the same facility is unattractive. 

CATH GILMOUR:  Preferably not – community/convention organisers against it and Auckland example shows risk/cost reduction gained would be matched by increased gambling take. 

JOHN GLOVER:  Yes – proven track record. 

FIONA MCARTHUR:  Undecided, I need to see much more detail around this and other options. The devil is in the detail.
WARWICK STALKER:  A convention centre is not something we can fund ourselves, we need Government, SkyCity & Ngai Tahu to make it work. 

SIMON STAMERS-SMITH:  Let’s see. SkyCity’s involvement may or may not become a reality as the master plan is developed.
TREVOR TATTERSFIELD:  Yes – experienced operators.

NICOLA VRYENHOEK:  If there are other management offers on the table then consideration should be given to all interested parties, although do business with those you know and trust.
ANGUS WELSH:  Yes. They have the infrastructure and experience to operate it well, however not in favour of a third casino.
BRYCE WHITING:  No. A responsible local authority should not be a party to the promotion of legalised vice. 

VANESSA VAN UDEN:  Yes providing it is the right deal. If a convention centre is built it will need an operator, they are experienced and doesn’t necessarily mean a casino