Former landowner claims Wānaka Silverlight Studios is 'dead'

by Lauren Pattemore - May 27, 2024

The former owner of a large property on the outskirts of Wānaka flagged for a multi-million dollar mega film studio says the project is "dead" as the project's instigators look set to be kicked off the land.

Silverlight Studios received fast-tracked consent for its ambitious film studio and associated residential housing on a 322-hectare property close to Wānaka Airport, but money to progress plans was slower to follow.

Now, sources tell Crux there is a new plan for the site that includes a golf course and housing.

Peter Marshall, who originally sold the property on which the $280 million studio was to be located, has told Crux today he understands the project has been canned as the current landowner considers fresh options.

Mr Marshall claims Silverlight Studios chief executive Mike Wallis no longer has access from the South Island Office, who did a deal with Mr Marshall for the land in 2022, when Silverlight Studios revealed it did not have the money to buy the land.

Rob Farrell, a director in the Christchurch investment group, declined to comment when contacted by Crux today.

However Mr Marshall says, "They (SIO) have withdrawn their offer, which was for two years post the original sale, which was in February 2022, and they haven't renewed it". 

He says he was told this by someone closely linked to the project, who also told him of the plan to pivot to building a golf course and housing, potentially making use of new fast-tracked consent legislation coming from the government.

"I've got nothing to do with it, but that's what I understand," Mr Marshall told Crux.

"Silverlight...they've got no that's all over.

"The movie thing is dead and gone. Finished."

In a written statement to Crux today, however, Silverlight Studio chief executive Mike Wallis pushes back at that suggestion.

Mr Wallis says the company is continuing to "work hard pursuing the development of Silverlight Studios".

“We are excited about its potential to diversify the economy, create economic resilience and a substantial number of high paying and diverse jobs for the people of the Southern Lakes region."

He says a "large production" that made use of the land earlier this year is proof Wānaka is "a perfect fit for a film base".

Mr Wallis' original project received fast tracked consent in December 2021 under the government's Covid-19 response legislation, however, it has been a bumpy ride for the development since then.

In February of this year, the government pulled out of its earlier promised $4.5 million worth of funding, which then-Regional Development Minister Kiri Allen had pledged to deliver in March 2023.

Then minister Kiri Allan and Silverlight Studios Mike Wallis in March 2023 after government financial support for the film studio was announced (file photo).

Of the withdrawn funding, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment investment director Paul Swallow said that delays in the start of construction mean the underwrite agreement was never put in place and was no longer available to the company.

Kahli Scott, the manager of the Queenstown Lakes District Council's in-house film office, has told Crux today she is not aware of any change of plans for the site.

Ms Scott says she has only "occasional, informal contact with Silverlight in the context of the district’s growing film industry", and she has not been informed of "any changes to the current project scope".

There's been very little visible progress at the site, and in September 2023 the Queenstown Lakes District Council extended a timeframe on the resource consent for the project, giving the developers until March 14, 2029 for the project.

Another film industry insider, based in Queenstown and approached by Crux for comment today, says they have also heard through the grapevine that Silverlight's plans are no longer going ahead, although in their view it never had legs to begin with.

"No industry players ever did believe that would go ahead. We just don't know where they got the money from.

"Wānaka doesn't have the industry to support a studio."

They claim the shooting earlier the year, allegedly part of a Taika Waititi film project, was not without its challenges. 

They say during filming an enormous amount of time was lost as a result of the neighbouring airport with filming needing to pause while planes landed and took off.

The original plan for the film studio included replicas of Paris, New York, Venice and a medieval village all set around an artificial lake.

Main image (EPA/Tilt Architecture): Silverlight Studios' grand plans for the former rural property on the Wānaka-Luggate Highway.

Support Crux Support Crux