Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Deadline dash, and a deal

Joyce scrapes in to sign casino contract

Artist's impression of the centre.
Artist's impression of the centre.

A deal between the Government and SkyCity for a $402 million international convention centre was sealed in 15 minutes after a deadline dash from Auckland Airport this weekend.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce was to meet SkyCity chief Nigel Morrison and lawyers at 6pm on Friday to sign contracts.

But his 4pm flight from Palmerston North was cancelled, leaving him waiting for a later plane - and sweating the 11pm deadline.

"By the time I got to the KPMG offices in Central Auckland, we had to complete things pretty quickly," Joyce told the Herald on Sunday. "We wanted things finalised speedily, otherwise the lawyers would keep things going for as long as we let them."

The 404-page contract reveals SkyCity paid TVNZ $5.25 million for prime CBD land - but the state broadcaster still has Sky over the barrel on two more blocks the casino wants for the convention centre.

SkyCity has $7 million left to buy No 85 and 91 Hobson St, but TVNZ could demand far more for such valuable central city property.

Some of the money TVNZ makes from the deal would go towards refurbishing the broadcaster's existing facilities, TVNZ spokeswoman Georgie Hills said.

The heritage-listed Albion Hotel on the corner of Hobson St has been another hurdle, and SkyCity's architects have been forced to build around the historic pub.

The SkyCity deal has more hurdles to cross before it becomes official.

These include legislation being passed by Parliament and obtaining resource consents from the Auckland Council and approval from the Overseas Investment Office.

If problems arise with resource consents, the Government has powers to override the council.

SkyCity will meet the full cost of building the convention centre in exchange for being allowed 230 more poker machines, extra gaming tables and an extension of its Auckland casino licence from 2021 to 2048.

Joyce said the signing was celebrated in low key fashion, over a few beers and glasses of wine.

"There was no champagne. We quietly celebrated for about 15 minutes then I had to go to a family dinner."

- Additional reporting by Rebecca Quilliam of APNZ

- NZ Herald

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