Editorial: The only thing Queenstown’s council did well – destroy the CBD

by Peter Newport - Feb 21, 2024


Our story this week detailing the closure of four well known central Queenstown restaurants, in the middle of a tourist and population boom, was pretty much the last dying gasp of Queenstown’s central business district.

There must be a secret document somewhere at the Queenstown Lakes District Council, in a large secret pile of documents, that is the blueprint for the destruction of the CBD.

But unlike many of those other secret plans (Lakeview, the arterial road, 516 Ladies Mile) this plan has been executed to near perfection.

Ratepayers are angry, tourists are frustrated, businesses are going under and even the chamber of commerce must be thinking of giving up and moving its offices out to Frankton. All that remains is for the tumbleweed trucks to arrive and spread their load across the empty streets.

But the QLDC does have one final flourish up their sleeve – Project Manawa. As if removing all the parking and closing off streets for mis-managed, never-ending over-budget 'shovel ready' vanity projects is not enough, our mates at the council want us to stump up $50 million (more likely to end up being $200 million) for a grand new council CBD HQ and civic precinct.

Figuring out that the more clever, complicated and risky the deal – the better – the council’s 'crazy risks' department has come up with a real killer deal for us. It’s riddled with unfathomable land swaps, development partnerships that become council (un)controlled organisations, construction rebates and 'rent back in perpetuity from the developer' agreements.

This latest piece of genius planning has cost a bargain $2 million (possibly at least double that 'official' number) and has taken more than ten years to assemble with no significant consultation that any of us can remember. It was all part of an expensive 'masterplan', worked on by Arrowtown consultants Rationale and designed to help secure the CBD as the cultural and financial centre of Queenstown.

Now that there’s really nothing much left of the CBD Project Manawa will have its work cut out.

Of course, around 100 percent of the community, including businesses, DQ, the chamber of commerce, and even four former mayors instantly recognised the insanity of Project Manawa. It’s too risky, too expensive, it’s in the wrong place and makes no sense at all. We all told the council that on Monday this week during the official hearing of submissions.

Naturally, based on past performance they’ll try and do it anyway and somehow not deliver clean disease-free water, effective public transport, a good roading system, environmentally-friendly waste collection and a sewerage system that does not smell and leak all the time.

Perhaps it really is time that somebody gave the commissioners a call and declared a local government emergency.

Otherwise, there’ll be nothing left to save.

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