Dunedin's five-star hotel

The decision to reject the Betterways Advisory bid to build a $100 million waterfront hotel in Dunedin is, on the face of it, not surprising.

As the Dunedin City Council hearings committee kept calling for further information, there was a sense within the community the project would fall at the first hurdle.

To recap, more than a year ago Betterways Advisory director Steve Rodgers announced at a function in the city that a hotel was planned for barren land overlooking the harbour basin.

Some of Otago's more prominent citizens were used to laud the project and its future benefits to the city. Immediately, there were calls for the backers to be revealed as, at the time, Mr Rodgers was the public face.

It was suspected, correctly in the end, that Chinese entrepreneurs were behind the bid.

Jing Song, of Queenstown, and her husband Ping Cao, of China, finally revealed themselves during the planning hearings. Jing Song has been here for a considerable period, studying and working in the South.

By then, it became obvious a growing chorus of dissent from a wide part of the community had taken hold. There were, of course, supporters of the hotel and what it could do for the city - which lacks five-star accommodation.

Dunedin is a heritage city, having escaped the worst of the 1980s excesses of glass towers. That, in fact, proved to be something of a problem for the developers.

Hearings committee chairman Colin Weatherall this week correctly said the decision had to be made on facts, not the heart. The city prides itself on its buildings. And tourists come here for many reasons, including the cityscape.

So where to from here? The hotel backers do have 15 days to appeal the decision of the committee, and there will be some areas open to appeal.

But there are fears they may walk away from the city. That would be a missed opportunity for both Dunedin and the wider Otago region.

Opponents of the 98m-high proposed hotel point to the former chief post office as a possible site for the five-star hotel. A five-star hotel needs certain requirements to be afforded that type of rating.

It comes down to the type of rooms, restaurants, bars and facilities.

So far, the best intentions in the world have not transformed the former chief post office into a five-star facility. And whether its current owner is interested in a partner remains to be seen.

So, is there another site in Dunedin suitable for such a hotel development? Dunedin heritage building owner Stephen Macknight, who has done a wonderful job upgrading heritage buildings in the city, believes there is.

He welcomed the decision to deny the hotel development, saying the tower would have dominated its surroundings and could have killed work to regenerate the nearby warehouse heritage precinct. Mr Macknight is not opposed to five-star hotel development elsewhere in the city and says there are a large number of sites available.

The city council, the Otago Chamber of Commerce and people like Mr Macknight must now work hard with Mr Rogers and the hotel backers to find a suitable site.

Mr Rogers hinted earlier another development may be possible on the site beside the harbour basin, but it may not be a hotel.

If there are sites available, those in the know must identify them and work with, not against, Mr Rodgers in getting them in front of the developers as quickly as possible.

With the redevelopment of earthquake-ravaged Christchurch starting to gain impetus, overtures will surely be made to Jing Song to spend her money in what may be perceived as a more welcoming environment. Christchurch will be eager to have a top accommodation option for visitors.

Dunedin hopefully still has the opportunity to become a hub for those visitors used to luxuries. A new five-star hotel would be complementary, not detrimental, to existing accommodation providers. But there is no time to waste.

No city in the country can afford to stand by and let $100 million of private investment disappear.

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