City hotel proposal 'hard to improve'

A graphic of what the Dunedin Hotel may look like if built. Photo supplied.
A graphic of what the Dunedin Hotel may look like if built. Photo supplied.
Dunedin's proposed $100 million waterfront hotel would offer a ''grandstand view'' of the city, and become one of New Zealand's most spectacular venues in the process, if it is built, a Dunedin architect says.

The endorsement came from Francis Whitaker, of Mason and Wales Architects Ltd, on the second day of a resource consent hearing to decide whether the proposed 28-storey tower can be built.

Mr Whitaker, giving evidence for Betterways Advisory Ltd, the company seeking to build the hotel, said he did not think Dunedin people quite realised the quality of the hotel being considered.

''This city hotel may be unparalleled in New Zealand,'' he told the hearing committee.

As evidence, he pointed to ''astonishing'' views of the city and harbour from the hotel's banquet hall, reception area and a level two swimming pool, which would look out over the harbour from behind a glass wall.

Apartments and hotel rooms would also enjoy an ''outstanding outlook'' over the city or waterfront, and ''will, in effect, showcase the city of Dunedin''.

So, too, would the rooftop restaurant, bar and gardens, which meant the roof was ''likely to be one of New Zealand's most spectacular venues''.

The 28-storey tower had attracted 507 submissions - 457 of them opposed - with most critics worried about the building's height, visual dominance and impact on nearby heritage buildings.

Yesterday's session was to hear from the first speakers opposed to the hotel, but evidence from Betterways' experts took longer than expected, meaning that would now begin today.

Instead, Mr Whitaker's evidence in favour of the hotel dominated much of yesterday's session.

He argued the hotel could work alongside older buildings, as was the case within the University of Otago campus, the Information Services Building being an example. The hotel's height was ''not inappropriate'', and if properly constructed, would make ''a strong contribution to the architecture and amenity of the city''.

It would also help ''book-end'' the central city's southern fringe, balancing Forsyth Barr Stadium to the north, and a new pedestrian overbridge, if built, would help re-establish the city's link to its waterfront.

However, the hotel's design needed to be ''excellent'' and he supported referring the final design to a council-appointed panel of experts for approval.

The key was whether the final design made the hotel an asset, or an eyesore.

''It has to be a good building ... If the current concept is developed to the high standard that the design promises, a worthy building will eventuate."

Asked by independent commissioner John Lumsden if he found anything negative about the proposal, Mr Whitaker said there was little to dislike.

However, he acknowledged that, in a city Dunedin's size, ''you start to form a view and have opinions''.

He had been invited to give evidence for Betterways after expressing those views, but his company did not stand to benefit from the project.

''My views were formed around whether this can be good for Dunedin ... I think it delivers a huge bang for your buck, which is very hard to improve."

Betterways director Steve Rodgers later said Mr Whitaker had been given no guidance or brief for his evidence.

Mr Whitaker also denied the building would destroy views, saying it would instead become ''an element within the landscape'', although Mr Lumsden said ''quite a few'' submitters would disagree.

Consultant planner Don Anderson, who prepared Betterways' consent application, told the committee the hotel met the requirements of the Resource Management Act, as there were no height limits for a building on the industrial site at 41 Wharf St.

Some views would be lost because of the hotel, but views were not guaranteed by the district plan, and neither were shading effects arising from the hotel, he said.

He also said plans for a new pedestrian bridge - crossing the railway line beside the hotel - would have been included in Betterways' consent application, if the company was in a position to do so.

However, the involvement of other landowning parties - KiwiRail and the council - made that impossible, he said.

''We can only deal with the land we have control over ... but we realise the importance of it."

Asked if the company could give an undertaking to pay for the bridge, should the hotel be approved, Mr Rodgers said he could not, as design and cost details for the bridge were not yet known.

However, he was ''very keen'' to discuss the proposal with other parties, as it would ''certainly solve all the problems'', and initial talks with council staff had already begun, although no ''deals'' had been cut.

Betterways' solicitor, Phil Page, also suggested council staff might - through their reports - be trying to force the company to fund the overbridge through the consent process, which was ''understandable'' but ''not lawful''.

The committee should grant consent for the hotel ''in the full knowledge ... you are making the bridge much more likely'', he said.

Yesterday's session also featured detailed questioning of transport engineer Andy Carr, appearing for Betterways, about the possible impact of extra traffic from the hotel on the surrounding roading network.

He suggested unfunded council plans to add traffic signals at the intersection of Wharf and Fryatt Sts might need to be brought forward to help guests cross Wharf St to the waterfront - the cost of which the hotel's developers might contribute to, Mr Rodgers indicated. The hearing continues today.

The needs of the few

So 100 people in the hotel will have a great view. That's far more important, according to the developer's argument, than the view that the other 100,000 people in the city will be subjected to. Those 100 people are going to have to spend a lot of money in the city in order to compensate for that.

On reclaimed land?

That location is reclaimed land, i.e., used to be water.  I don't mind 28 storeys, just make it structurally sound and on a strong foundation.  It must be earthquake proof.  To do the job properly you will need to dig down until you hit rock.

My 2c

I think there are a few issues at play here and I'm not sure which people are more annoyed with...
1. Design: I agree that the design looks somewhat uninspired. Not quite clean enough to caputre a true minimalist style and it ends up looking like a 1970s hospital. I think the designers aren't really being bold enough, to be honest. There is room for new modern buildings in Dunedin, but there needs to be a link to the old so that it's not such a style shock.
2. The money: If this is being privately funded, then this is great. True investment in this city which is so desperately needs, it will create jobs without costing ratepayers, and if it does what it sets out to do then the flow-on economics to the city are all positive...However...
3. Sustainability: Many, like myself, will look at this and wonder how it's going to work. Does it really need to be so tall to accommodate so many people? Do they expect it to run at such a high occupancy rate year round? And if it does, can the infrastructure handle the inflow that is being targeted?
These issues aside, if this goes ahead (and I think Dunedin needs some form of true 5-star accommodation), we still need to consider other factors like extending the airport runway so that all these tourist can fly first class on a fully-laden 747 into our airport, and a train service running from the airport to Dunedin that could reduce travel time for passengers and frieght costs.
Traditionally Dunedin is a gateway to Central Otago. If we really expect to get all these tourists we will need to increase our appeal and offerings across the board. It would be nice if everyone could get on the same page for once or have some sort of long term plan on what they are trying to achieve. [Abridged]


Oh please yes!

The hotel is a fabulous opportunity for Dunedin to get with the times, and place itself in a good position to attract overnight tourists with a modern and expansive hotel.
Some people may think it is ugly. Tourists, however, seek out this type of accomodation. It is what they expect to find in a progressive city, looking to compete in the global tourism environment.
Some think it is not in keeping with Dunedin's heritage history. So what? It doesn't have to be.
I did not support the stadium. I love Dunedin's heritage buildings. I support the concept of this hotel.  

Put the design aside for a moment

Sure, the design looks pretty dull from the outside, and our hackles are raised when this happens ... which is most times a new hotel, retail development or civic building go up.
One thing I would say about that is, for those of us keen on architecture that tries to be somehow interesting, is that most big hotels are just really boring and sterile, inside and out.
I'd rather see a new hotel full of people (if indeed this is likely - locals are quite rightly sceptical on this) than, say, a foreign-owned pre-cast concrete hardware store which is basically empty. And we most definitely want more privately-funded new development in Dunedin! Given our city's massive debts, let's start with the question about who is paying.
On a level, the grand optimism and puffery behind projects like this hotel is right and natural - it is what led to cities like Dunedin being established. It'd be great if we looked more deeply at economic sustainability, and weren't always having knee-jerk reactions based on the 'heritage' thing. [Abridged]


Wrong location, uninspired design

So much against this proposal. The choice of location is shortsighted. Others have noted the inappropriate scale of the building. The land itself is at risk from earthquake liquefaction and the forecast sea level rise.  Even if the foundations are secure the land around it  will turn into a swamp in an earthquake.
If sea level rises as forecast there'll be waves breaking against it's ground floor by the end of the century.
The design is very much a 1960's glass box. None of Dunedin's high rise buildings has contributed value to the cityscape - I'd love to see the day when they are all demolished. This new hotel promises to be the worst offender of all. How can anyone suggest it would make "a strong contribution to the architecture and amenity of the city" when it is practically indistinguishable from the  thousands of similar structures that dominate every other city skyline on earth?
There are two ways to make a strong contribution to this city's architecture. One is to build something so unique and amazing  it becomes an international tourist attraction. Very expensive! For a city the size of Dunedin, the more realistic approach may be  to encourage renovation of its characterful but deteriorating architectural heritage.

It's a square peg

This is one the cheapest designs one could come up with. 

There is no attempt at fitting in with the rest of Dunedin - quite the opposite.  All the attractions of this design stem from just being tall.

Big glass blocks are common throughout the world. An intelligent design would do far more than just benefit the owner's bank balance.

I feel relief in seeing that we have people willing to see beyond money - even when they desperately need it.


You use that word "improve".  I do not think it means what you think it means.

At odds with heritage development

I don't want to sound overly dramatic but if this goes ahead it would probably be the final straw for me and the idiotic haphazard way Dunedin is developed. I would consider leaving the city, because it breaks my heart to see it continue to have its charm and character plundered and eroded with these projects. 

Why can't this hotel be smaller, or in a more appropriate location? Any sensible person can see that having a building three times the height of our other tallest buildings is actually quite ridiculous. Will we then build loads of tall buildings around it so it will blend in? Our harbour will be surrounded by tall hotels and apartments just like all the other awful holiday destinations in the world.

This hotel is completely at odds with the major project being undertaken to develop the heritage precinct. Dunedin needs to pick a direction and go with it. I would like to see a bylaw restricting the height of future buildings as a result of this.

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