Queenstown’s council conference centre cash hope

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Prime Minister John Key’s endorsement of a proposed conference centre should aid negotiations for government funding, Queenstown’s mayor says.

Key announced a huge $158 million budget boost for tourism yesterday and highlighted the role of conference centres in attracting big-spending visitors.

“We are obviously delighted and very encouraged by these comments as we continue to negotiate funding,” mayor Vanessa van Uden says.

Council announced in February it was entering into negotiations with a preferred consortium led by investors Ngai Tahu Property Ltd and Morrison & Co, with the preferred site being council-owned Lakeview land, off Man Street on the edge of Queenstown’s CBD. It would be operated by Auckland-based SkyCity Entertainment Group.

Council chief executive Adam Feeley says initial discussions have focused on the possible site and consenting issues associated with it, and the possible financial arrangements for investors, operators and local and central government stakeholders.

“We believe that the consenting issues are eminently capable of being resolved, but it is the financial issues that are likely to generate strong public interest,” Feeley says.

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

But current estimations on cost are anyone’s guess. The mayor says council wants no surprises when it comes to the scope and cost of the project, but that information could only be provided once detail and been discussed and agreed in principle.

Feeley says the investors needed to know that the project was financially viable, the operator needed to know that it represented a good business opportunity, and central and local government needed to ensure that the scope of any contribution was both well-defined and capped – as well as delivering indirect economic benefits well in excess of that direct investment.

The breakdown of the budget boost, announced before Auckland’s TRENZ tourism conference, shows $34m to attract conference visitors but no direct capital funding for centres.

A further update on the project will be made in June.