SkyCity bets on Queenstown

Convention centre, luxury suites and casino upgrade to lure rich gamblers south, says Anne Gibson

SkyCity is looking at expanding and enhancing the company's activities in Queenstown. Photo / APN
SkyCity is looking at expanding and enhancing the company's activities in Queenstown. Photo / APN

While SkyCity this month got the nod for its controversial $402 million Auckland convention centre, a Queenstown expansion proceeds almost entirely outside the spotlight. In the southern town, the company has been picked to operate a new convention centre, which is yet to be built. But SkyCity also wants new luxury hotel accommodation to draw multimillionaire Asian high rollers on a Darwin-Adelaide-Auckland-Queenstown casino trail. Accommodation, big-ticket sponsorship and new restaurants are on the cards in the tourism mecca.

Convention centre

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park at the top of Man St overlooking the township is the favoured location for the centre, 500m from Lake Wakatipu, 100m from the main shops, at the foot on the gondola.

The site is now run as a camping ground and holiday accommodation. Plans are for a $50 million venue for 1000 people and SkyCity has been named as the preferred operator.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council decided three months ago to enter development negotiations with a consortium led by Ngai Tahu Property and public-private infrastructure giant Morrison & Co.

Other parties involved are design company Populous, behind big international projects such as London's O2 Arena, Yankee Stadium in New York, the redevelopment of Eden Park for the Rugby World Cup and Dunedin's covered stadium. Big southern builder Naylor Love and Auckland-based architects Fearon Hay are working on the scheme.

Casino

SkyCity has two potential sites but could abandon both in favour of the huge Lakeview convention centre site, centralising all Queenstown operations at the one venue. No announcements have yet been made and a law change would be needed before SkyCity could shift.

But the company might want to develop an integrated entertainment hub around the convention centre, with bars, restaurants, hotel accommodation, VIP areas and casino, all on one central location.

SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison says the business is examining a range of options on its Queenstown property. It has some choices to make about two existing sites:

SkyCity Queenstown Casino, 16-24 Beach St. The company does not own the building, it is too small for expansion and unable to offer new accommodation or integrated entertainment such as bars and restaurants. SkyCity used to have partial ownership of this operation but took full control in December when it paid local-based tourism/property company Skyline Enterprises $5 million for its 40 per cent stake.

Elsewhere in Australasia it has control of its properties and is not a tenant.

The Singaporean-headquartered Lasseters Queenstown Wharf Casino, 88 Beach St on the lakefront.

The site, which opened in 1999, has a maximum of 74 electronic gaming machines and six gaming tables. SkyCity has applied to buy this casino in a $5 million deal which is subject to regulatory approval.

Options include continuing to operate it there, close it down and shift everything to Beach St, or move to Lakeview.

SkyCity says it plans to continue on the site.

Lasseters bought the Wharf Casino in 2006 but the venue has not been highly profitable.

Hotel accommodation

More accommodation could be developed on the convention centre site on Man St. SkyCity wants luxury suites integrated into its entertainment facilities. Casino visitors mainly stay at the Sofitel Queenstown or Hotel Novotel Queenstown because they want to be in the heart of the tourist township and near SkyCity's existing casino.

But Morrison wants something more like its new Horizon Suites in Auckland, where high-rollers have their own VIP accommodation and gaming areas. "We've bought Queenstown as a potential tourism and high-roller destination," he said.

"The view is that Queenstown has a great future. We've got right behind the NZ PGA golf championship as the inaugural sponsor of that.

"We can see ourselves getting more involved in getting major events into Queenstown to bring more high net-worth individuals there."

Many SkyCity high-rollers fly into Auckland and Morrison said it would be easy to take them on further to Queenstown as part of their New Zealand experience.

New restaurants

SkyCity has big Queenstown plans for eateries and executives have made progress after talks with major Auckland restaurant owners "and they're open to it", Morrison said.

Chefs Peter Gordon, Al Brown and Sean Connolly all opened at SkyCity Auckland and Morrison indicated it was this group - including Nic Watt - who might consider Queenstown but nothing was yet decided.

- NZ Herald

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