ORC leaves door open

Jing Song
Jing Song
A multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Dunedin's waterfront could still be on the table, but the ball is firmly in the court of hotel developer Jing Song to be part of it, the Otago Regional Council says.

Ms Song, a director of Betterways Advisory Ltd, is refusing to be drawn on her plans, after scrapping an agreement with the Dunedin City Council to try to build the hotel at 41 Wharf St.

She told the Otago Daily Times she was not yet ready to commit to a new project.

''We are considering whether we are still doing something, or not, in Dunedin.''

The comments came after it was confirmed the ORC had prepared ''high level'' plans for the redevelopment of the city's harbour basin - including a waterfront hotel - late last year.

The plans were among documents released to the ODT last week, following an official information request.

They showed a new marine science institute/aquarium, ORC headquarters and waterfront hotel, clustered together on the southern edge of the harbour basin.

Emails also released indicated Betterways' representatives were interested in a possible development on ORC land as recently as April.

ORC chief executive Peter Bodeker told the ODT the concept plans were prepared by Mason and Wales Architects - at the request of a senior ORC manager - following media reports Ms Song might consider shifting her hotel to the ORC's vacant site.

They aimed to show how a new, yet-to-be-confirmed ORC waterfront headquarters could fit with a waterfront hotel and the University of Otago's suggested aquarium development.

While the university had since placed its aquarium plans on hold, other parts of the plan could still be options for the future, Mr Bodeker confirmed.

Ms Song had expressed interest in developing all three buildings - as a back-up to its hotel plans at 41 Wharf St - during a meeting with Mr Bodeker and others in Auckland on December 4 last year, Mr Bodeker said.

Also at the meeting were Ms Song's husband, Ping Cao, ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull and DCC staff.

The concept plans had not been considered by ORC councillors, nor any decisions made, and the ORC was still evaluating its need for a new headquarters.

That work was expected to be completed later this year, and would determine what the ORC wanted to do with its waterfront headquarters site.

''That's the big 'if', and that work hasn't been completed yet,'' Mr Bodeker said.

A hotel development on the site was still an option that could be considered, including if Betterways was to approach the ORC, he said.

''If it did, and that was a viable option, then we would discuss it.''

Mr Bodeker denied the ORC had dropped the ball earlier this year, after being asked by the DCC to discuss a hotel on its site with Betterways' representatives.

That request led to the December 4 meeting in Auckland, after which Mr Bodeker wrote to Ms Song, stating he would respond to questions arising from the meeting by late January this year.

No letter was sent, prompting a follow-up query from Betterways solicitor Phil Page to the ORC on April 8, days before Betterways scrapped its agreement with the DCC, the emails showed.

Mr Bodeker emailed back, saying he and Mr Woodhead had instead agreed to a DCC request to send the answers to the DCC, which was to forward them to Betterways, the emails showed.

However, the DCC withheld the information until April 29, when it was eventually emailed to a Betterways representative, former city councillor Syd Brown, along with an explanation for the delay.

The information related to the ownership of the sites, split between the ORC and Chalmers Properties, a subsidiary of ORC-owned company Port Otago, and surrounding land.

Council infrastructure and networks manager Tony Avery, in the email, said the DCC had been ''mindful'' of Betterways' desire to focus on options for 41 Wharf St, and held back the material to not ''cut across or complicate that focus''.

Mr Bodeker told the ODT he was ''not concerned at all'' with the approach, as it was the city council that had the ''major relationship'' with Betterways.

Ms Song did not blame the ORC for the delay, but would not be drawn on whether it had affected her enthusiasm for a development on their land.

She would not say how long it would take to decide her next move, or whether Betterways would consider approaching the ORC in future.

''Whether they want to approach us ... it's really totally up to them.''

Mr Bodeker stressed the council was not in talks ''either formally or informally'' to pursue a hotel development on its site.

And even if the ORC decided to pursue a development or sale of the site, it would not ''necessarily'' approach Betterways directly, he said.

That meant the ball was in Betterways' court, he confirmed.

''They certainly haven't come near us since they made the decision around the Wharf St site. Maybe that could be a conclusion - that they've moved on elsewhere in their thinking.''



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