Convention centre plans downsized

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014

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The Government's key anchor project - a Christchurch convention centre - could be downsized after "market sounding" suggested a 2000-seat venue was too ambitious, official papers released to the Green Party reveal.

But the Crown has declined to release the business case for the $284 million, taxpayer-funded facility, prompting Green list MP Eugenie Sage to raise concerns about the project. She said the public needed to know if the convention centre risked becoming "an empty, expensive white elephant".

A new convention centre, to replace the one damaged in the 2011 earthquake, would compete with well-advanced plans for similar facilities in Queenstown and Auckland, said Sage.

It is believed the business case for the facility has gone before Cabinet, but it is unclear when more details will be released.

The market sounding report said the scope of the proposed convention centre could be reviewed.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee declined to comment, but a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) spokesman said there had always been "flexibility" in the final makeup of the anchor projects. The business case would never be released during the tendering process "for commercial reasons".

The spokesman said both parties in the agreement - the Government and Christchurch City Council - "accept that the project structure and specifications will need to be confirmed and optimised following a business case analysis for each anchor project."

The Greens wanted more transparency about the facility. Sage was worried that if the business case was withheld, the city would not know whether the convention centre would be worth it or if it came with "strings attached, like the shabby SkyCity deal in Auckland."

Scaling back the convention centre was first hinted by Prime Minister John Key last May but there had been no more talk about it until the official documents were released by Sage yesterday.

Key, in Christchurch yesterday, was not aware of any potential downsizing. He said convention centres brought in a lot of business.

"The leaders in Christchurch need to think about what is the vision for Christchurch, what's it going to look like and don't just plan for today. Plan for tomorrow," he said.

The most recent timeline from the Christchurch Central Development Unit said master planning of the facility was due to start in the first quarter of this year with main construction starting this time next year and the convention centre finished by March 2017.

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