Council drops information centre project

The new information centre for Cromwell will not be built next to the big fruit sculpture on State Highway 8B, despite the Central Otago District Council spending almost $40,000 on that proposal over the past few years.

In a closed session at its December meeting, the new council chose not to proceed with the project, voting instead to lease a yet-to-be-built building nearby because of the cost.

Its decision was released yesterday, with the council communication and strategy co-ordinator Maria De Cort saying the council wanted to release the information ''once the paperwork was sorted''. One of the main reasons for moving the centre was to gain greater visibility from the highway and hopefully attract more tourists into the town.

The new Murray Tce site, next to Subway, is further away from the highway than the original proposal and is not as visible, especially to people travelling from the east.

Council chief executive Phil Melhopt said he thought there was still ''pretty good visibility'' but there was ''the opportunity to improve that through landscaping'' and felling trees.

Concept plans considered in 2012 valued the build at $1.3 million but that had since risen to $1.6 million, which was to be covered by a loan.

Mr Melhopt said funding the interest on that loan would have cost ratepayers about $80,000 a year.

In the past few years, the council had spent $38,000 on plans, consents, legal fees and Environment Court costs, which he said was ''not huge''.

Mayor Tony Lepper said councillors were ''always looking for better solutions and saving money''.

''We've certainly got some new thoughts and some new opinions.''

He said the decision to shelve the old proposal and opt for a lease was unanimous.

Deputy mayor and Cromwell Community Board chairman Neil Gillespie said it was good to be finally getting on with it and ''economics have said this is the right thing to do''.

''And we will still get the opportunity to make sure it will connect to the mall and draw people into the town centre.''

Cromwell businesswoman Shona Rae had opposed the new facility and taken the council to the Environment Court. Yesterday, she said she was happy with the council's decision.

''I'm happy that they're not going to spend a whole lot of ratepayer money.''

Cromwell businessman Gary Anderson was another submitter.

He told council it should consider leasing a space rather than building a new one as that would be cheaper.

Yesterday, he said he was pleased the ''new breed of councillors'' seemed to have listened to reason.

''I'm pleased they saw the light and went with [what was] our view from the start but it just seems a complete waste of money.

''$38,000 would go a long way towards upgrading the Omakau water supply.''

Another factor in the council's decision was the changing way information was accessed, Mr Melhopt said.

''The information and communication environment has changed considerably with the use of the internet and social media platforms. The expectation of travellers is evolving rapidly .

We needed to ensure our decision allowed flexibility for the i-Site to move with the changing operating environment.''

Mr Anderson said that was another thing he had been telling council from the start.

Mr Melhopt said final details were yet to be negotiated with the developer, believed to be Wanaka-based, and as yet no lease agreement had been entered into.

He expected any lease agreement to be for five or six years with right of renewal.

The councillors have left the negotiations up to council staff.

Construction is expected to start in March, with completion expected about six months later.

It was hoped the Cromwell i-Site would be in the new location for the beginning of the 2014-15 summer season.


Timeline
May 2006
- A Central Otago District Council suggestion to move Cromwell's information centre out of a building shared with the museum in The Mall to a site closer to State Highway 8B is rejected by Cromwell Community Board members.

April 2009 - Council opts for a $680,000 conventional centre, rather than a more expensive showcase facility with a price tag of $2.1 million. The new centre was expected to open in March 2012 on the corner of Murray Tce and Barry Ave.

June 2010 - Council postpones the $738,000 project for a year.

September 2010 - Council criticised at a local body election forum in Cromwell for lack of progress on the new centre.

February 2011 - In considering and setting the district component of rates, the council agrees to leave $1 million in the budget for the new centre but wait until a review of visitor information centres has been carried out before agreeing to spend money on the new Cromwell centre.

April 2013 - Independent commissioner Denis Nugent, of Wanaka, grants resource consent for the proposed $1.3 million centre.

May 2013 - Cromwell businesswoman Shona Rae makes an appeal to the Environment Court; the two parties go to mediation. Environment Court judge Jon Jackson allows Mrs Rae's appeal in part.


- sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz