A legal battle’s brewing over Queenstown’s $60 million council-backed convention centre.
Frankton developer Alastair Porter says there’s no justification for costs to fall on commercial ratepayers outside of downtown Queenstown – like his company Remarkables Park - and residential ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay at all.
The council intends to borrow $30.9m over 50 years - with interest costs of $74m.
Wakatipu ratepayers will be stung $51 a year for the centre, while Wanaka home-owners will pay $13 annually.
The council’s argument is businesses outside the downtown will benefit.
But Porter says that can’t be quantified.
Council has to act reasonably when striking rates, he says, and if it’s not reasonable it can be challenged.
If the council’s long-term plan is adopted as it is - “I’m sure there’ll be a legal challenge.”
It won’t come from him personally, he says. “I know enough business people, including our own businesses, to know that there will be a legal challenge.
“If they strike an unreasonable rate - which frankly is any rate that seeks to fund the conference centre outside of the downtown - it’ll be challenged.”
Council boss Adam Feeley says it’s unsurprising that, as a “trade competitor and frequent litigant”, Porter wants to use the courts to “delay or derail” a CBD convention centre.
Its external legal advice says the council can lawfully and reasonably levy a rate to fund the convention centre.
That doesn’t stop legal challenges, however.
Feeley says the council spent more than $1m in legal and other costs because of legal action brought by Remarkables Park over plan change 19.
Similarly, Queenstown Airport, majority owned by the council, has spent a “similarly large figure” over ‘lot six’ - a parcel of Remarkables Park land the airport wants for expansion plans.
Feeley: “It is consistent with this behaviour that he would threaten the council with another round of costly litigation.”
University of Auckland associate professor of law Ken Palmer says he thinks the benefits of a convention centre will be enjoyed by people both within and outside the CBD.
He adds: “I expect any legal challenge would fail.”
Eye-watering rates rises for the council-backed centre and a sewerage system upgrade have renewed calls for a bed tax on tourists.
Arrowtown by-election candidate Howard Scott, of Dunedin, has called for an immediate 12-month moratorium on the council’s convention centre work in the face of “widespread ratepayer disquiet”.
Rival Basil Walker, of Queenstown, suggests all passengers arriving or leaving Queenstown Airport have to pay a levy.
As previously reported, ratepayer costs for the convention centre and controversial plans to extend Queenstown’s town centre have topped $1m.
Convention centre funding relies heavily on external funding, including a multi-million dollar contribution from the government.