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Goodbye Hilton at Te Papa: the collapse of one of the council’s great ideas

convention centre

Wellington.Scoop
One of the city council’s eight great ideas has suddenly crashed. The Hilton Hotel and convention centre opposite Te Papa in Cable Street, which was approved last month with a promise of more than $40million of council money, has been cancelled. In circumstances which are less than clear.

The DomPost reports

Council chief executive Kevin Lavery said the demise of the Cable Street proposal became clear on Friday, when the developer’s team confirmed they had “ended their interest” in the site.

Mr Lavery doesn’t tell us why the interest was ended so suddenly. But the council issued a statement quoting developer Mark Dunajtschik as saying that

for a variety of reasons, the Cable Street site was no longer considered viable

And amazingly, a different site is suddenly being discussed, and praised, in the same announcement of the demise of the original plan that was approved by councillors.

Those involved are now proposing the CentrePort-owned Interisland Wharf, next to Wellington railway station, as the best site for the 165-room Hilton and 2500-capacity convention centre.

It’s hard to believe Mr Lavery when he claims the hotel and convention centre could be opened on the wharf only six months later than the date that was announced for Cable Street – when plans don’t yet exist. But he does admit there’ll be difficulties.

The proposed wharf development would require resource consent under the Regional Coastal Plan. Lavery said that, if consent was granted by Greater Wellington Regional Council, it could be appealed against, potentially delaying or killing the proposal. “There is definitely risk around the project in terms of the land issues on the wharf and the resource consent process.”

There’s a bit more reality from Derek Fry, the city council’s growth and partnerships director:

It is disappointing the Cable Street proposal has fallen over, and the entire Hilton project will need to be revisited from a design and economic perspective.

Reality, too, from Dave Burgess who wrote this morning’s DomPost report. He says the collapse of the hotel project throws doubt on whether it will ever be built. And he reminds us:

It is the second time in recent years that plans for a five-star Hilton in Wellington have dissolved. In 2008, the Environment Court stopped the construction of a $45m hotel on the outer-T of Queens Wharf.

Strange, therefore, to have a sudden plan to build a Hilton on another city wharf.

Celia Wade-Brown says the new site would be “a fantastic spot.” But there are now credibility issues that her council must face. When she and 12 councillors voted last month to support the Cable Street Hilton, she said

… the decision was a huge win for the Capital’s economic development, providing revenue and jobs for at least the next 20 years under the terms of the lease. “I’m very pleased the Council has approved this deal by a wide margin. This decision makes it clear the Wellington City Council is active in the economic development of the Capital.
“The Council is enabling a project that will protect and generate around $21 million a year net GDP benefit to the Capital. Construction will begin within months and the Wellington Convention Centre will open its doors in 2017. We’ll be well ahead of proposed developments in Auckland and Christchurch.”

None of these claims is credible any more. And the DomPost, more feisty than usual, sums up the situation as a mess and a shambles.

What a shambles. After a year of exuberant announcements and “artist’s impression” sketches, Wellington’s convention centre has been thrown into chaos. The proposed site, on a car park opposite Te Papa, now cannot be secured. A second option, on a port-owned wharf in Wellington Harbour, is being swiftly touted as an alternative. This is a mess and an embarrassment for everyone involved.

It’s hard to disagree, in spite of the shameless tone of the council’s official announcement this morning.

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