Poll suggests majority of public support ICC investment in CBD block

Stuff.co.nz/Southland Times
By Evan Harding

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The majority of respondents to a Southland Times poll want the Invercargill City Council to invest up to $30 million in the $180 million CBD block development.

Just a day after the city council announced it would be consulting with the public on the proposal, the unscientific online poll asked the question: Do you support the Invercargill City Council investing up to $30m in the city's $180m CBD redevelopment? 

As of 5pm on Thursday there had been 989 votes cast, with 652 saying yes to council investment and 337 saying no - equating to 66 per cent support.

Among many comments in an online story about the proposal, Glenys Melhop says if any city needs a mall it's Invercargill.

"Not a fan at all of shopping in the city centre as it is," Melhop says. 

"In fact I avoid it. Drab, lifeless and so outdated. Just get on with the planned mall before yet another windy, wet winter goes by." 

However, Stewart Henderson says the council was not voted in by ratepayers to get into property development and should concentrate on utilities such as water, sewage, libraries and footpaths. 

The council is seeking feedback from the public in a consultation process between May 18 and June 28.

HWCP Management Ltd, a joint venture between the HW Richardson Group and the city council, has applied to an independent hearing panel for resource consent to demolish the block build the development.

A decision on the consent is expected in early June and it is anticipated a new entity will be responsible for the project after demolition, if the project gets that far.

The council's public consultation document says two private investors have so far committed $20 million each in the new entity.

It is understood one of those private investors is Geoff Thomson, an Invercargill-based property developer and hotelier.

Thomson said he would hate to think what would happen to the province if the people didn't want to invest.

"It would be really sad because the city wouldn't have a future.

"The reality is our city is in such poor shape and there's an opportunity to fix it, the alternative doesn't bear thinking about."

Thomson, who was born and bred in Invercargill, said he loved the city and was passionate about doing something to fix it.

Last year, HWCP chairman Scott O'Donnell identified other potential investors as HW Richardson Group [of which he is a director], Community Trust South, Ngai Tahu Property, the city council and the Government's Provincial Growth Fund.

The Provincial Growth Fund has already committed $995,000 for a business case and feasibility study into the CBD redevelopment.

A spokesman for the Provincial Development Unit, which manages the Provincial Growth Fund, confirmed this week it had received a subsequent application related to the same CBD redevelopment.

"The application is currently being assessed and we are not able to disclose the amount requested as it is commercially sensitive at this stage."

A Ngai Tahu spokeswoman said Ngāi Tahu Property has had preliminary discussions with HWCP about potential rejuvenation of the Invercargill city centre. 

Talks were in the early stages and had not yet included monetary figures.

Community Trust South chairwoman Margot Hishon did not respond to questions.

O'Donnell said they were still working with all the possible funders and he should be able to announce those players in August.

All funding was subject to resource consent being obtained to demolish the CBD block and build the development, so consent was the immediate hurdle, O'Donnell said.

The consent application is to demolish the majority of the buildings in the block consisting of Esk St, Dee, Tay and Kelvin streets and build a mainly covered complex which would include shops, anchor tenant, food outlets, offices, apartments and multi level carpark.

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