Five vie for 'iconic' city project

South Island tribe Ngai Tahu and the Australian firm that developed the Melbourne Convention Centre are among five who have made the shortlist for the iconic Christchurch Convention Centre project.

Last month Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) declined to reveal who the five shortlisted groups were after receiving 22 expressions of interest.

It is drawing up a detailed business case for the anchor rebuilding project.

The size of the convention centre project is likely to be about $300 million and up to $500m.

Industry sources say Plenary Group, the Australian firm that developed the Melbourne Convention Centre, is one of the five. Plenary would not comment.

The five are expecting to present before a Cera selection panel, probably next month.

When Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee called for expressions of interest in September he said the Government wanted proposals for the convention centre, associated parking, connected retail and commercial operations and a five-star hotel.

The convention centre had to be an "iconic facility" that made an aesthetic statement and could comfortably host 2000 delegates.

The parties say a consortium needs at least a developer and an investor or several investors and a building company with the track record to undertake such a large project.

The document Cera put out for expressions of interest is said to be quite vague. It puts up several options. One is a group to just design and build the convention centre precinct and another option is more complex, a group to design, build, maintain, operate and finance a convention centre.

The consortiums may not be set in stone. Some parties might have the option of being in more than one group. Some may be just as interested in other CBD projects if they miss out on the convention centre.

Ngai Tahu Property chief executive Tony Sewell confirmed it was one of those shortlisted. It was partnered with an American family-owned firm which specialised in operating civic-based entertainment centres.

Three of New Zealand's largest building companies have confirmed they are part of shortlisted groups but they are not revealing who they have partnered with.

Fletcher Building, New Zealand's largest construction company, said it has a New Zealand partner but is not revealing who. Hawkins, one of New Zealand's largest privately-owned construction companies, is not revealing who its partner or partners are either.

Construction company Naylor Love has teamed up with Australian construction company Hutchinson Builders to target the CBD projects and said last month they were shortlisted but they are not disclosing partners,

Naylor Love director Scott Watson said no one was quite sure what the next stage was and they were waiting to hear back from Cera.

Sewell said Ngai Tahu's American partner was "pretty substantial". He did not have the US company's permission to say who they were. "They have a set of family values that we like.

"We have put up a proposal which we know is quite different in concept."

Ngai Tahu had not selected a building partner. In Ngai Tahu's view that came after resolving the business and investment case, the funding and the design.

"The first thing you need is somebody who really knows how to operate a convention centre and make it work," Sewell said.

The business case might require a local or central government subsidy because the cashflow might not be enough to justify the investment. That would need to be negotiated.

Cera's document did not say who would own the convention centre, he said.

"Now we are waiting for our chance to put up our case along with the other five as to who will be ultimately appointed," Sewell said.

David Peterson, general manager of Fletcher EQR, said the company was not in a position to say who, but the partner was a New Zealand company.

The city could potentially take a stake in the convention centre, he said.

The Cera documents gave options. "In actual fact one of the options may be that it's too hard for us and we don't get across the line hence I'm being a bit vague."


Christchurch Convention Centre contenders:

Ngai Tahu Property is the property business within Ngai Tahu Holdings Corporation, the commercial arm of the South Island tribe of Ngai Tahu. Ngai Tahu Property is a developer and investor and prefers government partnerships for large developments.

Plenary Group is an Australian infrastructure business with management teams in the Americas and the Asia Pacific region. It specialises in public-private partnerships and has been involved in nine including the development of the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Fletcher Building is New Zealand's biggest construction company. Three months ago it secured, along with its SecureFuture consortium partners, the first Government private-public partnership for the building and operation of South Auckland's new Wiri Prison.

Naylor Love and Hutchinson Builders are two large privately-owned 100-year-old construction companies who have joined forces for the rebuild projects.Naylor Love is involved in constructing the Christchurch cardboard cathedral and rebuilding the Isaac Theatre Royal and New Regent Street.

Hawkins Construction, one of New Zealand's largest privately-owned construction companies, is owned by the McConnell family of Auckland. It led the building of the AMI temporary stadium in Christchurch and is the partner for IAG Insurance in managing earthquake repairs and rebuilds.

The Press