Hotel with vast conference centre proposed for Wellington

ROOMS WITH A VIEW: The proposed Hilton Hotel and conference centre would be built on this car park site opposite Te Papa.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW: The proposed Hilton Hotel and conference centre would be built on this car park site opposite Te Papa.

A five-star Hilton Hotel with a vast conference centre could be open and taking bookings in Wellington within three years.

Wellington City Council has confirmed a 165-bed Hilton would include a purpose-built, 2500-capacity conference centre, making it the third-largest in New Zealand should it open as hoped in 2017.

The venue would be branded, marketed and managed by the Hilton chain which, unlike Auckland's Sky City, does not run casinos. Sky City plans to build a $402 million convention centre.

The cost of the Hilton hotel-conference centre has not been disclosed, but it would provide about 350 new jobs. Head developer and investor Mark Dunajtschik confirmed it would be built in Cable St, opposite Te Papa, should the proposal get the green light.

An unrelated proposal for a Hilton on the outer T of Queens Wharf ran into fierce opposition and was ditched after the Environment Court in 2008 ruled against the development.

However, the latest proposal is not on a waterfront site, and the resource consent would most probably be non-notified.

Dunajtschik - who has been battling for the right to knock down the heritage-listed, earthquake-prone Harcourts Building in Lambton Quay - said development deals such as the Hilton one were tricky.

"Getting all the ducks in a row is not an easy job. We've been very dedicated to it, but we still need a lot of decisions from a number of people. Probably the very first one is the council."

The council would provide an as-yet unspecified amount for the project, but only if the business case, which was still being developed, stacked up and was approved by the full council next month.

There would be a consultation period for the public to have its say.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said financial input from the council would most probably be justified.

"The economic benefits to Wellington go far wider than directly to the convention centre and the hotel. It's good for Wellington business as a whole, and good for employment."

There were no five-star hotels in Wellington, which meant a new Hilton would not be competing with "exactly the same offer" from other accommodation providers, she said. "But the convention centre with 2500 capacity will be really good for other hotels."

Council economic spokeswoman Jo Coughlan said a large convention centre would enable Wellington to tap into the lucrative Australian market.

"Those convention-goers tend to spend $3000 a trip, compared to a domestic convention-goer, who spends about $1000. It will have a big impact."

There was considerable investment in new conference centres around the country and, within four years, there was expected to be capacity for 6500 more conference delegates in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, Coughlan said.

Wellington is the second largest conference destination behind Auckland, making up 14 per cent of the total convention centre market.

It brings in more than $100 million for the capital each year.

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said that if the Hilton was built, more foreigners and New Zealanders would visit the city for conferences. "At a conservative level, we think it would grow . . . by about 18 per cent."

The Dominion Post