Why these four Queenstown mayors spell the end of Project Manawa

by Peter Newport - Dec 08, 2023


In spite of years of behind-the-scenes planning, and a small army of consultants, there’s no getting away from the fact that Project Manawa is a Queenstown Lakes District Council vanity project in the wrong time and the wrong place.

It’s basically a grand new council office building/monument dressed up with some overly clever speculative property development and civic packaging.

The Lakeview debacle, that has left ratepayers around $100 million underwater with little hope of recovery, should have put our council off any future notion of property speculation using our money. Especially as we’ve discovered the Lakeview money was instead of clean drinking water – not as well as clean drinking water.

But just as we were all thinking that Project Manawa was another unstoppable piece of expensive, debt-ridden QLDC indulgence along come not just one or two, but four former local mayors all united in fervent opposition to what Sir John Davies calls an idea that is “bloody ridiculous”.

These are all people who have earned a strong voice. Their names are followed by a galaxy of honours – KNZM, QSO, CNZM and ONZM.

What’s more, they echo the feedback Crux has received from the community, totalling more than 94 percent opposition to Manawa.

For Mayor Glyn Lewers and council chief executive Mike Theelen to continue with Project Manawa after this level of opposition would be beyond folly.

To add weight to the former mayors’ opposition is the discovery that the Christchurch City Council has spent the last year trying unsuccessfully to get a rent adjustment out of landlords Ngāi Tahu for their offices to bring them down to market level, let alone any reflection of their partnership deal.

Sir John told Crux that the Queenstown CBD is now just for tourists. And he’s right.

If the QLDC had entered a “how to totally screw up a CBD competition” they’d be the outright winners.

They’ve mismanaged other over-priced vanity projects to the point of nearly bankrupting CBD retailers (let alone ratepayers), abandoned plans for promised CBD parking buildings and overseen the replacement of locally owned businesses by the likes of the new duty-free store on steroids that was O’Connells. And this is all while the residents of Wānaka continue to wonder if Mayor Lewers and Mr Theelen even know that they exist.

Most, if not all locals now avoid the Queenstown CBD at all costs and any remaining businesses like dentists, accountants and local retailers are getting out to Frankton as quickly as possible because that’s where their customers want to be.

Formidable as Mayor Lewers and Mr Theelen think they are with their inside knowledge of how local government works, the people that pay their salaries (us) are far from stupid.

The four former mayors who now insist that the council goes out to Ladies Mile with their new office plans are even less stupid.

A famous rule in retail is if a clumsy browsing customer breaks something there’s one simple answer: “You broke it, you pay for it”.

Now for QLDC the same rule applies to the $14 million 516 Ladies Mile land: “You bought it, you use it”.

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