Wellington Scoop

The cost of a convention centre

Should we be jealous of Auckland because it’s getting a $402million convention centre? Probably not, because the price of the project will be a big increase in gambling in central Auckland. Sky City, which is to pay the costs of building the convention centre alongside its casino-hotel, is being rewarded by the government with 230 more poker machines and forty more gambling tables.

Fran Wilde, however, believes that Wellington should be willing to pay such a price. She said on Newstalk ZB this morning that we should be building a convention centre similar to Sky City’s. She said she’s pushing for the project, “because it is necessary for the region.”

But not everyone would agree with the concept of involving a casino, and rewarding it for building a convention centre.

In 1992, at the start of her one term as mayor of Wellington, the city’s waterfront concept plan included a casino-hotel. Three years later, when she had decided not to stand again, the council was involved in secret negotiations with a company named Casinos Austria International Ltd, which had a base in Queensland and which claimed that the Austrian government was its majority shareholder.

Representatives came to Wellington from Brisbane and were smoothly persuasive in describing how they wanted to build a large casino-hotel on Taranaki Wharf. Their plans involved demolishing the Odlins Building and Shed 22. The city council entered into a redevelopment agreement. It wanted the Queenslanders (or the Austrians?) to run the hotel and the casino.

Early in 1996, at the start of Mark Blumsky’s mayoralty, there were drawings showing what the council described as a “European-style hotel-casino” which would have occupied all the space between Cable Street and the lagoon. The new building was to be in two parts – a five-star hotel on Cable Street, connected to a triangular building on the waterfront, for the gamblers. Pedestrians wanting to get from Civic Square to Te Papa would have had to walk through an internal street between the gambling rooms and the hotel.

When public opposition started growing, the council found itself under pressure to cancel its agreement. There were three reasons for the opposition: no one wanted the two heritage buildings to be demolished, no one wanted to lose all the open space on Taranaki Wharf, and no one wanted large-scale gambling in the centre of the city. But the council refused to cancel its agreement. So the project moved on to a resource consent. Then things ended quite quickly.

When commissioners began hearing the application, they received 140 objections. The opposition was too strong. In May of 1996, the application was rejected. There was general agreement that Wellington did not want a casino-hotel. But it seems that Fran Wilde has forgotten the level of opposition to plans for a casino in the centre of Wellington.

SkyCity’s big rewards for building a convention centre

Russell Brown: we should be feeling very uneasy


  1. Rosamund, 13. May 2013, 15:57

    Perhaps the idea is to build a hotel and casino complex on the Miramar Peninsula site of our heritage prison. The last plan promised was about 3 years ago and still silence. One would hope that there would be lots of public input and then any proposal would be publicly notified regardless of the “ownership” of the site.

  2. Watermannz, 13. May 2013, 17:32

    If we can’t build a world class convention facility without hooking on a casino then we don’t need a world class convention centre. No casino Fran – go there and you are gone in the next local authority election – seriously. Put your energy into sorting the Stadium; that sore will fester until treated by lancing the current concessions.

  3. Celia WB, 13. May 2013, 19:18

    Yes to a convention and cultural centre – looking at whether they are one or separate projects.
    No to a casino – from what I’ve heard – can suck out money from the local theatre, cinema and hospitality industries, as well as problem gambling issues.

  4. Nora, 13. May 2013, 22:50

    Wellington lost the opportunity for a Conference and Cultural Centre when they allowed the Overseas Passenger Terminal to be bulldozed down for the elite millionaires’ apartments.

  5. Maggy Wassilieff, 13. May 2013, 23:25

    I remember that the Karori Sanctuary Trust signed a sponsorship contract with Casinos Austria Int. in 1997. It’s interesting that the Greens now seem to be opposed to casinos…… How would they have spun the “value” of casinos to the environment if the project had come to fruition?

  6. Rufus Sixsmith, 14. May 2013, 20:52

    @Maggy. Your logic is faulty.

    Just because the Greens are in favour of the Karori Sanctuary AND the Sanctuary got money from a casino operator does NOT mean the Greens are in favour of casino operators!

  7. Lee, 14. May 2013, 21:01

    BIg difference showing up between Fran WIlde and Celia Wade-Brown.
    Go for quick bucks Fran, or steady, careful planning Celia.