Precinct plan puts hotel hopes in limbo

DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Owners of the Copthorne Hotel Christchurch Central think a rebuild would work with city convention plans.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Owners of the Copthorne Hotel Christchurch Central think a rebuild would work with city convention plans.

Millennium & Copthorne Hotels NZ wants to rebuild its Copthorne Hotel Christchurch Central on Victoria Square but is waiting on an official decision to allow that.

The NZX-listed hotel chain was hit hard by Canterbury's 2011 earthquakes, losing the leased Durham St operation, which is now demolished, and now awaiting the confirmed demolition of the Christchurch Central site.

The hotel operator is also awaiting the start of repairs to its separate 179-room five-star Millennium Hotel Christchurch in Cathedral Square, with that restoration project on hold.

Managing director BK Chiu said while it had been decided in discussions with insurers that the 142-room Copthorne Hotel Christchurch Central needed to be demolished, the future of the site was unclear.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and its Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) held the key for allowing any rebuild.

The CCDU has proposed that a performing arts precinct will be built on and around the area now occupied by the Copthorne Central and other buildings.

The building site could be switched to government ownership through a compulsory acquisition.

Chiu, however, said that Cera was well aware of Millennium & Copthorne's desire to rebuild on the site.

He noted it was in a good location for a hotel given its closeness to the Town Hall and the proposed central city convention centre precinct.

The site "is still under the [future ownership] decision from Cera, nothing has changed. But I'm hoping that because the Town Hall is going to be where it is . . . maybe we might get a chance to keep our site and build a hotel.

"It's a great site, close to the convention centre and it will work well with the convention plan for the city."

The insurance policy on the Victoria Square property had been settled, Chiu said.

Demolition of the existing hotel is expected within the next few months.

CCDU project delivery general manager Greg Wilson said the Copthorne hotel was situated in the area designated for the performing arts precinct, which was a work in progress.

The final makeup of the precinct would be linked to decisions made on the future of the Town Hall, he said.

For anything else to be built on the Copthorne Hotel site, written consent under the Resource Management Act was required from Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, Wilson said.

"The test is whether the proposed use would prevent or hinder the public work - in this case the development of the performing arts precinct."

Chiu said a separate multimillion-dollar project to repair the Millennium Hotel Christchurch in Cathedral Square remained on hold.

Talks were still ongoing between the building's Japanese owner and its insurers, meaning the lengthy restoration process could not begin.

Chiu said he thought the building was repairable and that work would take "at least" 18 months.

The operator was also keeping an eye on other hotel ownership possibilities in the city, he added.

"We're committed to Christchurch, it's important for us. It's not just for tourism, it's also the commercial centre for the South Island."

It was not part of any hotel project connected with the convention centre, which has a shortlist of five potential developers.

The Press