$6.5 million exhibition centre dumped

By Rosaleen Macbrayne, Mathew Dearnaley

Tauranga entrepreneur Bob Clarkson has pulled the plug on a proposed $6.5 million exhibition centre next to his Baypark speedway, in despair at fishhooks in the project's resource consent.

"I am sick to death of the hassles," the high-profile 65-year-old said yesterday. "I have the toughest skin around, but by hell it's getting pretty thin."

Mr Clarkson decided nearly two weeks ago to shelve the project, but did not announce it then "because I didn't want to be mean".

Tauranga had been "beaten up" by the weather and then the victorious Magic netball team were barred from staging a home final for the lack of a suitable facility, which he said he could have provided had he not been held up at every turn.

"We could have had the Magic game there in front of up to 8000 people," said Mr Clarkson, who is National's candidate in a battle for Winston Peters' Tauranga seat.

The self-made multimillionaire developer faced plenty of red tape when he paid for - then physically helped to build - the $15 million Blue Chip Stadium, which is now used for conferences, rugby and concerts as well as housing the Baypark speedway.

After battling bureaucracy again, and waiting 14 months to begin building the 8500sq m exhibition and events centre on the same site, he has run out of patience.

Neither is he as willing to provide much-needed city facilities at his own expense.

"I have been hit in the pocket. There is actually a bottom to the barrel."

So far, pursuing the necessary consent had cost him $100,000 "and we haven't even got started yet".

He has now received the consent but is upset about conditions set by an independent commissioner, such as a requirement sought by Transit New Zealand to build three pedestrian islands in the middle of State Highways 2 and 29 outside the stadium, for $50,000 more.

"It is not a cost argument - I don't mind paying if I get results. I just don't want to encourage people to walk across a busy state highway. It's absolutely stupid. I will not be responsible for deaths."

There was parking for 6000 cars in the Baypark grounds. Mr Clarkson said the "petty" demands and delays meant he had lost enthusiasm for building the exhibition centre. "I can't take any more of this punching me around. Time is tons of bloody money and I am not doing this for profit. I could have got four times as much income if I had kept the buildings I sold to get this [complex]."

He accused "people in places of power" of being small-minded. "I run on adrenalin and I had a passion to get this thing underway. But I can't have my dream interrupted all the bloody time. It's unrelenting."

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby and city council chief executive Stephen Town have a meeting arranged on Friday with Mr Clarkson's stadium manager, but have yet to gain an appointment with the entrepreneur himself in a bid to change his mind.

Mr Clarkson said that would not happen until the Resource Management Act was streamlined.

He accepted there had to be rules but said the RMA "gravy train" process had to be sped up. "I might review it in 18 months' time when National is in power," he said.

Mayor Crosby said last night that his council had agreed to help the developer on two fronts, with a $275,000 annual grant for up to 10 years in return for 50 per cent access to the events centre, and low rental for adjoining council land where new commercial buildings could go.

He had also, as a new mayor, met Mr Clarkson to ask him if there was anything more the council could do "but he didn't come back to me."

He counted himself among many admirers of Mr Crosby's achievements, but said the council had conducted a very robust evaluation of the exhibition centre and it was clear it stood to make substantial losses.

"Maybe he looked at the additional costs and said it is not stacking up financially, and decided to put it on hold for a while."

Mr Crosby said the council was also prepared to consider helping the developer with costly improvements needed on the stadium, including floodlighting and roofing.

But he defended the pedestrian islands requirement, saying residents from a nearby subdivision already crossed the state highways to reach the speedway.

- additional reporting: Mathew Dearnaley

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