Dunedin hotel compromise on offer

By Chris Morris

An artist's impression of the Dunedin hotel idea
An artist's impression of the Dunedin hotel idea

The woman behind a controversial $100 million waterfront hotel bid in Dunedin says she will compromise to secure a deal with the Dunedin City Council.

Jing Song said from Singapore she was prepared to reconsider the hotel's design, including its height and possibly its location, if that was what it took.

The building would still need to be economic, and she could not say exactly what changes would be acceptable - or how many floors could be lost - ahead of mediation talks expected to begin in a few months' time.

The ball was in the council's court while the developers waited to hear what they might consider acceptable, she said.

"We will wait for their next move."

Her comments came after the council's hearings committee declined resource consent for the hotel earlier this month, citing concerns about a lack of information, the hotel's height and the impact on its surroundings.

That prompted an appeal to the Environment Court earlier this week by the company promoting the hotel, Betterways Advisory Ltd, of which Ms Song was a director.

It was expected the appeal would lead to an invitation from the court for parties to consider mediation talks, in an effort to avoid lengthy - and expensive - court proceedings.

Ms Song said she remained confident the company's appeal was "on good grounds", but was prepared to talk to "resolve some problems".

"If it's something we have to do ... we will be keen to work a solution out that tweaks the design, perhaps lowering some of the floors.

"Yes, it's a possible answer," she said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, asked to respond, said in a statement the council had written to Betterways to offer a meeting and independent planning advice in the wake of the committee's decision.

"Initial discussions between the parties have been positive. No avenues are shut in terms of attracting this investment to Dunedin."

Ms Song told the ODT she and her husband, Chinese construction company owner Ping Cao, had taken a week to decide their next move after hearing the committee's decision on June 5.

She said the announcement came as a shock.

"It was bloody awful," she said.

The couple came "very, very close" to walking away, but had been convinced by supporters to continue the fight in Dunedin - despite overtures to consider other investments instead, including in Auckland.

"People just think I'm absolutely mad. I think I am mad - mad about Dunedin.

"I just want to do something for the city," she said.

Ms Song studied and worked in Dunedin before relocating to Queenstown, where she now lives and works.

She said the company now wanted to focus on pursuing the hotel project, but it was "hard to say" yet if mediation would work.

If mediation failed and the appeal went to court, that bill would rise "well above" $500,000, she said.

"If the bills keep ticking and the clocks keep ticking ... eventually those costs will pass down to the apartment buyers or the hotel owners.

"It comes down to how economically viable it is," she said.

- Otago Daily Times

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