Firm committed to Christchurch mountain bike park

Experienced: Select Evolution president Fiona Sutton after a muddy downhill run at the Whistler Bike Park in Canada.

Experienced: Select Evolution president Fiona Sutton after a muddy downhill run at the Whistler Bike Park in Canada.

It sounds almost too good to be true.

Christchurch is on the cusp of getting a $25m mountain bike park.

Billed as heaven for Lycra-clad thrill seekers, Christchurch Adventure Park means they will no longer have to shell out big bucks to go to Rotorua, or beyond, to visit their biking utopia.

But who are the Canadian developers behind this project spruiking a 25 per cent return to investors? Why have taxpayers kicked in $2m and counting to help them out? And why have details so far been so scant other than vague publicity blurbs?

Select Evolution is the brains trust behind the scheme and has spent more than $3 million and almost four years developing its proposal, and Fiona Sutton, the company's president, insists the firm is committed to the project.

"Why would we be in the position we're in today, having pushed the boat out as far as we've pushed and not deliver it?"

Select Evolution wants to build the park on 358 hectares of forested land between Dyers Pass, Worsleys and Summit roads.

The park will include more than 100 kilometres of downhill mountainbike routes, a 1.8km chairlift for people and bikes, 2km of zip lines through the forest, a mountain coaster and a restaurant and bar seating up to 180 people.

It will also include accommodation for up to 252 people and is expected to employ around 140 full and part-time staff.

The land is owned by McVicar Holdings and will be leased by Select Evolution for a 50-year term.

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The project was granted resource consents late last month after a three-day hearing in November. Several conditions relating to noise, hours of operation and traffic management were put in place.

The decision is still subject to a 15-day appeal period, which ends next week, so Sutton has yet to get the approved consent papers in her hands.

The Government is backing the project, providing a $2 million grant from its Tourism Growth Partnership fund.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said to get the grant, Select Evolution had to submit a business plan demonstrating the concept was a viable, long-term business proposition.

It also had to show it could deliver the expected outcomes on time and within budget.

Sutton said the Government grant was the difference between going forward and stopping.

"It was extremely significant because we needed validation from somewhere in New Zealand. That was a game changer."

Sutton believed the adventure park concept was a popular one.

"You can go to an adventure park half a dozen times and each time have totally a different experience both by your own progression in the sport and by the interactions with the people around you.

"It's a great way of creating fun things to do and gets them off the couch and away from video games."

And she should know. She is a keen downhill mountainbiker, who also coaches women.

She said she has ridden most of the trails on the Port Hills.

"It's the freedom. With downhill mountainbiking you have to concentrate 100 per cent. It's not like skiing where you can kind of drift off and solve the world's problems while you're skiing downhill. You'll crash if you do that on a mountainbike."

Sutton about the finer points of the park and who will fund it until the final approval is given.

But she said late last month she hoped construction would start this year.

Select Evolution was seeking investors to fund the project.

A newsletter on the website of its sister company, Select Contracts, said it was inviting expressions of interest in a second round of funding after the first round was fully subscribed.

Anticipated returns were over 25 per cent, the newsletter said.

Sutton said Select would be selling "a significant portion of our position" to fund the park, which it intended to operate itself.

"It needs to be operated in a way that works. This is not a ski hill, it's an adventure park and it's a different method of operation."

Select Evolution NZ Ltd was incorporated in New Zealand in May 2013 to develop the park, but its sister company Select Contracts, which Sutton chairs, has been in existence since 1978.

Sutton formed the civil engineering company after spending years as a drilling engineer in the North Sea.

The company's first project was building a theme park in the UK. Sutton delivered the project under budget and six months ahead of schedule.

Select Contracts now employs 50 people across three offices in Canada, Dubai and the UK. It is a consulting company that develops projects for clients who want to create adventure parks, surf parks, theme parks or resorts.

"There's very few consultants in our world that have been around for 37 years," Sutton said.

"We've got a lot of experience to draw on."

Select Contracts helps ski resorts extend their operations to maintain year-round income.

One of Select Contracts' clients is Whistler Blackcomb, a year-round resort in Canada.

Whistler Blackcomb business development vice president Rob McSkimming said he had worked with Select Contracts for five years and they were "excellent" to deal with. "They have a very capable team with a broad range of experiences and expertise."

"We look at how to take entertainment to the next level. Everybody is getting so fat around the world we need to bring some activity back and that strikes a chord with a lot of people," Sutton said.

Select Evolution has two other projects on the go, including a surfing-based adventure park in California, but the Christchurch park is its priority at this stage, Sutton said.

"It's what we do. We look at projects all over the world and we do our market studies and concept studies on them and we decide whether (it is) a viable proposition."

The project has received huge support from the community, which was one of the reasons why Select Evolution pursued the site, Sutton says. "Without the support of the community we wouldn't be where we are today."

 - The Press


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