Scope for hotels ambitious

A new five-star hotel in the heart of Dunedin, paid for by Chinese money, is just one part of a wider South Island development plan. But the man at the centre of it all wants to stay out of the spotlight. Chris Morris reports.

Anthony Tosswill is planning a property empire.

The man behind Dunedin’s latest five-star hotel bid has a wish list of 12 hotels, costing $500million, he wants to build across the South Island.

It is an ambitious plan slowly beginning to take shape at Lake Tekapo, where Mr Tosswill now lives, and one that has spread further south to Dunedin.

The Otago Daily Times this week revealed Mr Tosswill’s plans for an 18-storey hotel, apartment and office block in the heart of Dunedin.

The project, which was yet to be approved, already has the city talking about its potential economic benefits, as well as concerns about its height and design.

But, with none of Mr Tosswill’s projects yet to begin construction, questions are also being asked about his ability to deliver on his plans.

They are questions that have so far gone unanswered by the man himself, who has opted to stay out of the spotlight by declining requests for comment.

Instead, ODT Insight has talked to some of those doing business with Mr Tosswill, who described a man full of big ideas.

"He’s one of those people whose mind buzzes with about a million ideas at once," Mackenzie  Mayor Claire Barlow said.

"He’s a real entrepreneur."

But he also lacked the track record of hotel development to support his ambitious plans, leaving those he approached to wonder about several delayed and cancelled projects left in his wake.

That included at Lake Tekapo itself, where Mr Tosswill’s plans for two separate hotels — now years in the making — were progressing slowly but still yet to get off the ground.

It was a delay that left Mrs Barlow, like other mayors around the South Island, scratching her head.

"We’re all starting to begin to wonder, I guess, this long down the track, is this going to eventuate into anything?"

Mr Tosswill burst on to Dunedin’s radar on Monday, when hotel plans he had been working on for more than a year were unveiled.

It was the latest step in a long career for Mr Tosswill (64), who returned to New Zealand to live in Tekapo after 30 years overseas.

That included stints in Malaysia, where he owned a resort, Sanctuary Resort Malaysia, and where he still has business interests, the ODT understands.

But it also included other business ventures, such as founding Net-Managers, an internet service provider (ISP) that started in Australia but now has offices in Malaysia, China, France, Vietnam and India.

In 2014, Mr Tosswill, originally from Wanganui, told Fairfax Media he had fallen in love with Lake Tekapo’s "picturesque" scenery and planned to retire there after a career full of "different and weird things".

But he also wanted to help the settlement continue to develop, including by adding new accommodation options.

His ambitions appeared to have grown since then, as this week’s announcement showed.

A memorandum of understanding signed with the Dunedin City Council granted Mr Tosswill exclusive rights to buy the council’s Filleul St car park, opposite the town hall, to further his hotel plans.

That will happen only after a geotechnical site assessment and other due diligence is carried out, and resource consent will still be required.

The council is backing the project by paying the $50,000 bill for geotechnical work, and  will consider development contributions relief, worth another $1million, if the sale proceeds.

The hotel, if built, would add 200 five-star rooms to the city’s accommodation sector, at an estimated cost of up to $75million, and generate an ongoing rates return for the council’s coffers.

It would also deliver 42 apartments, 10 penthouse suites, two restaurants and a bar, as well as office space, a business lounge and even a public hot-pool complex.

The deal is the latest step in negotiations that were first reported by the ODT in January and which have continued behind closed doors since then.

At the time, the developer’s identity remained under wraps, and that continued this week, when details of the agreement — released the day after the ODT reported them — confirmed only the company’s name, NZ Horizon Hospitality Group Proprietary Ltd.

The project’s spokesman, Dunedin-based architectural designer Ken Taylor, has also declined to name Mr Tosswill or discuss his background in more detail.

But Companies Office records confirm Mr Tosswill is NZ Horizon Hospitality Group Proprietary Ltd’s sole director and shareholder.

And they also reveal a network of 10 other companies all linked to Mr Tosswill, as a director and shareholder, giving a more complete picture of his South Island-wide ambitions.

That includes at Lake Tekapo, where Mr Tosswill has created two companies to further two separate hotel developments in the lakeside town.

The plans are for a  five-star 300-bed Tekapo Lake Resort, and a smaller 100-bed Tekapo Sky Resort, both to be developed by Mr Tosswill’s companies.

Tekapo Lake Resort is to be built on land owned by the Mackenzie District Council, to be bought by Mr Tosswill’s company, and the plan was unveiled in a joint announcement by the parties in August 2014.

But, more than two years later, the land deal remained conditional, an application for resource consent was only now being processed and construction was yet to begin, council chief executive Wayne Barnett confirmed.

The separate Tekapo Sky Resort — to be built on privately land bought by one of Mr Tosswill’s companies — was granted resource consent in September 2014, but construction was also yet to begin.

Mr Tosswill  previously told Fairfax Media he hoped to start construction of the "expensive" Tekapo Lake Resort in March 2015.

Mr Barnett, asked this week why the projects appeared to be delayed, could only say any hotel development was "not a trivial matter".

Mrs Barlow said Mr Tosswill was an ‘‘interesting’’ character and she had initially been "a little bit uncertain" about his plans.

But, to date, he had paid his deposits and done everything asked of him by the council.

"We have asked him a lot of hard questions and he has come back and answered them."

It was a different story in Blenheim, where Mr Tosswill’s plans for another five-star hotel collapsed earlier this year.

In May, the Marlborough District Council was reported to be in talks with an unnamed developer who wanted to buy a council-owned car park in Blenheim and build a nine-storey, 146-bedroom, five-star hotel.

The plan was shelved in August after the developer refused to allow an independent appraisal of their finances as part of the council’s due diligence,  The Marlborough Express reported.

The developer also wanted a discount on the land sale, as well as subsidised development and consenting costs, worth about $2million.

Marlborough District Council property and community facilities manager Jamie Lyall this week told ODT Insight the developer was Mr Tosswill.

"We did have meetings throughout the year ... He did not see opportunities in this region at this point."

But the setback did not stop Mr Tosswill looking further afield, including Kaikoura, Queenstown and the West Coast.Buller  Mayor Garry Howard said when contacted Mr Tosswill had approached him earlier this year to discuss building a 60-room, four-and-a-half-to-five-star hotel in Westport.

The project, which was yet to be confirmed, was part of Mr Tosswill’s wider plans for the West Coast, including potential projects in Greymouth, Hokitika and possibly Fox Glacier or Franz Josef, Mr Howard said.

Development West Coast chief operating officer Warren Gilbertson, who has also met Mr Tosswill, said the developer’s focus was primarily on Greymouth and Westport.

Mr Tosswill had expressed interest in a site owned by the development trust, overlooking the Grey River, for a hotel and apartment complex "in the realms of" $35million, Mr Gilbertson said.

Mr Tosswill was  seeking incentives to help further his plans, including asking for the land to be given to his company, and for another $1.8million for "de-risking" feasibility reviews, Mr Gilbertson said.

Talks were continuing, but giving the land to Mr Tosswill had been ruled out and a formal proposal was yet to eventuate, he said.

Mr Tosswill was understood to be relying on Chinese investment for his projects, but investors were looking for large-scale opportunities, those spoken to by ODT Insight suggested.

Mr Tosswill’s bid to advance 12 hotel projects at once aimed to deliver that scale, it was suggested.

Companies Office records link Mr Tosswill to one Chinese-based company, Xiangbo Trustee Ltd, and it has been suggested Chinese investment will pay for the Dunedin hotel, if approved.

Mrs Barlow, the Mackenzie  mayor, said it was an approach she had heard of before, including at a lunch attended by visiting China Railway Construction Corp representatives in Lake Tekapo.

"From what I’ve heard, Chinese investors are not interested in investing in one hotel."

Mr Howard, the Buller  mayor, said he had received "similar information" about Mr Tosswill’s approach.

Mr Gilbertson said  Mr Tosswill’s plans to build a "loop" of hotels around the South Island to try to attract investment "certainly makes sense".

His developments in Tekapo appeared to have advanced the furthest, and he believed they would be "quite critical" to his wider plans, Mr Gilbertson said.

He would also be watching Dunedin closely to see if the latest hotel bid got off the ground, Mr Gilbertson said.

"But I guess he’s just got to get one off the ground."

Comments

An informative story. The man is not a bland Quantity Surveyor. He is an enthusiast for ideas, entrepreneurial, a Howard Roarke figure, if you like. Don't bag talent.

Anyway, build it at Wanaka, then Luggate to Dunedin.

After reading this excellent backgrounder on Mr Tosswill, some red lights are flashing in the old noggin. I hope our Council isn't being led by the nose and is wisely spending ratepayer funds here. Dunedin needs this development within the next two years. But we cannot afford another long-running and ultimately costly former post office debacle caused by the failed promises of would-be developers.

@SouthD, to be fair it wasn't just the developers. The council all through that saga was giving preferential treatment and deals to the Southern Cross (ie low cost loans) that they weren't willing to provide on equal terms to the developers of the Post Office saga