Council-backed centre case made

An artist's impression of a privately funded convention centre at Remarkables Park, Queenstown.
An artist's impression of a privately funded convention centre at Remarkables Park, Queenstown.

A $60 million council-created convention centre that could expand downtown Queenstown is still being pushed, while a privately funded centre is being dismissed as non-competitive at $30 million.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council admitted in its agenda for Thursday's meeting that public support for the council-led Queenstown Convention Centre was "narrow" and "polarised" - but approved measures to pave the way for establishing the centre.

These measures include securing funding outside the $32.5m it has already pledged for the project, and amending its long term plan to incorporate the centre's cost.

Meanwhile, the council has progressed discussions with Ngai Tahu Tourism, which is proposing to build a hot pool complex on the convention centre site, which overlooks Queenstown Bay and Lake Wakatipu.

As part of the site is reserve land, any lease to Ngai Tahu would need approval by the conservation minister - and the council has already initiated discussions with the Department of Conservation, the agenda revealed.

With a proliferation of convention centres spreading through New Zealand's main centres, the council-backed centre was still assured to be competitive because of its location, conference industry insiders said.

The council, as 75 per cent shareholder of Queenstown Airport, also had the ability to influence numbers at the resort's major entry point - and would be flexing its muscle by "ensuring that Queenstown Airport has the capacity to meet flight demand, particularly from Australia, through increased flights and establishment of night flights".

Early last month, the airport announced it had received provisional clearance from New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority and its Australian counterpart, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, for night flights from mid-2016.

A strong case was also made for the convention centre acting as a catalyst to expand the Queenstown CBD, which is hemmed in by its waterfront location backing on to steep residential streets.

"Development of a convention centre as part of a high-end mixed commercial/residential development would . . . strengthen the commercial viability of the site for hotel and retail development, and in turn generate greater return," a report commissioned from consultants CBRE says.

A convention centre backed by major Queenstown developers the Porter Group, thought to be in the $30m range, meant that it may not attract international conferences thought to want the action of downtown Queenstown.

A Horwath HTL report commissioned by the council was more specific.

"At a proposed budget of $30m it would not meet specifications for international conventions," it said.

Porter Group special projects manager Alan Paris has said public perception that there was competition between the council-backed convention centre and the Porter Group venture was wrong, and one would not necessarily cancel out the other.

"There are no real conflicts of interest, only points of difference."

However, the council was not completely bullish in its approach, and also resolved to look at "alternative design options for staged or reduced construction costs."

The Southland Times