QLDC facilitated Wānaka studio land deal
Queenstown Lakes District Council acted as a matchmaker in a deal that secured Silverlight Studios 332 hectares of rural land on the outskirts of Wānaka for a proposed mega film park.
QLDC made an initial introduction between Silverlight Studios and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), which then connected Silverlight to Christchurch-based investment group The South Island Office.
On Thursday, SIO confirmed it had bought the chunk of land, part of the Corbridge Estates and owned by Wānaka resident Peter Marshall, for an undisclosed sum.
A spokesperson says NZTE has been working with Silverlight Studios to connect it with potential investors since September 2020, after QLDC made an initial introduction between the two.
The expansion of New Zealand’s film industry is a Government priority, and directly supporting businesses like Silverlight Studios looking to develop film studios in New Zealand is part of NZTE’s role, the spokesperson says.
NZTE will remain in contact with Silverlight Studios to check on the development and will support the project with investment preparation and investor connections if needed, the spokesperson say.
Former Weta Digital worker Mike Wallis, TV and film production designer Ra Vincent, and film accountant Jonathan Harding are behind Silverlight Studios.
In December, an independent consenting panel approved resource consent for their $280 million film studio.
When complete, the complex will include replicas of Paris, New York (including Central Park), and Venice as well as a medieval village.
Crux has asked Silverlight Studio for comment on the use of a third-party, SIO, to acquire the land as well as asking what financial backing, if any, they have secured in order to advance the project. To date, no comment has been received.
Silverlight Studio’s resource consent was fast-tracked under special Covid-19 legislation.
The Minister for the Environment acts as the gate keeper to the fast-track process, deciding whether a project can beconsidered for a fast-track consent or not.
Projects progressed under the fast-track consenting act do have to contribute to the economic recovery from COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the Minister’s office says the Ministry for the Environment carried out “initial” due diligence on Silverlight Studios, as it does with all fast-track projects.
“This will include understanding how they are funding the project, and what they need to do to acquire the relevant land rights.”
A more in-depth due diligence process was not carried out by the Ministry because it wasn't considered bang-for-buck – it may have cost the Crown more than the costs associated with enabling the project to access the fast-track process. Plus, the decision-making panel itself was in a position to consider the applicant's ability to deliver the project, including funding, the spokesperson says.
Any more specific details on the due diligence process are commercially sensitive and unavailable, the spokesperson says.
Likewise, the Ministry has no comment to make on the purchase of the land, other than to note the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act and the Resource Management Act do not require a resource consent applicant to own the land they are seeking to carry out an activity on.
Talking to Crux last week, SIO partner Rob Farrell said SIO wasn’t in the business of making movies, and it was the real estate that lured them to the deal.
“SIO’s only involvement (with Silverlight) is in purchasing the land.
“It was a good fit for us to come in and secure it.
“We’re particularly big fans of Wanaka and it’s an attractive piece of land.
If, for whatever reason, Silverlight’s plans don’t eventuate, SIO would remain as the owner of the land, Mr Farrell said.
What arrangement exists between SIO and Silverlight Studios to transfer ownership of the land, including any deadline by when the film studio must have done so, is confidential.
Note: Crux was advised QLDC would comment on this story today (January 26) but the council has now advised their comment will be provided to Crux on Thursday, January 27.