Fears for ‘community heart’ on the road to change

The Queenstown town centre masterplan signals the beginning of a  redevelopment aimed at ensuring the resort’s CBD remains fit for purpose  as a tourism drawcard. It also signals the beginning of difficult conversations that may lead to controversial decisions. Tracey Roxburgh reports.

When former Queenstown Lakes district councillor Cath Gilmour found out last week there was a chance the Queenstown Memorial Centre would be demolished, it was "personally ...  gutting".

Ms Gilmour was  chairwoman of the trust formed to redevelop the centre — a $3.2million project — which was reopened in March 2013.

But the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s town centre masterplan makes it clear the "preferred option" is for it to be bowled, to make room for an arterial road.

The RSA, which is based in the centre,  has signed a memorandum of understanding with the council  giving assurance it will always have a home in the resort.

Ms Gilmour said if there was good reason  to demolish the centre,  it was critical  the community received similar assurance it would always have a venue in which to  come together.

She said a large part of the reason the trust was able to raise the money for the rebuild was that the hall was seen as the "community heart".

Before the rebuild, there had already been a discussion about the arterial route — the link between Henry St and Memorial St was "rejected for several reasons".

"One that I can remember was ...  that it would split the recreation ground from the town.

"I have asked council [for] ...  the analysis as to why those reasons were no longer [an issue] and what made this better.

"I haven’t heard back from council on that front."

She believed the preferred route at that time was for the arterial road to travel along Robins Rd to Isle St and then link to Man St, Ms Gilmour said.

The masterplan did not explain how introducing a "kink" to join Henry St with Memorial St would improve traffic flow, why it was better, or what the pedestrian and safety concerns were if the centre, the Wakatipu Rugby clubrooms and squash facilities remained.

"I don’t see that they’ve made their case for bowling the hall being the better option.

"I think we, as a community, deserve a better explanation.

"I haven’t seen anything ...  that actually tells me why they came to the decision that bowling council offices, the hall and sports [clubs] and putting a busy arterial [road] between the community and its recreation ground makes good sense."

DowntownQT chairman Steve Wilde — who was the deputy chairman of the Queenstown Memorial Centre Trust — said he understood  opinion would be divided over the council’s preferred option regarding the centre.But there was a far bigger picture to look at and the masterplan’s release signalled huge opportunities for the community, he said.

"For the first time in the 20 years that I have been here, everyone’s sitting at the table and looking at the town centre.

"The thing I love about this process ... is the will behind it.

"It’s about what this town means to everyone.

"When I first came to Queenstown there was a real sense of ownership in this town ...  We really took pride in it.

"That’s been eroded.

"We’re talking ourselves into a horrible corner and it’s got to stop."

At present Queenstown was in a position of "extreme jeopardy", he said.

Tourism numbers were booming and the town’s population showed no sign of slowing.

The pressures of that growth on the community were well-documented, but it was also creating pressure on the CBD, affecting both the visitor and resident experience.

The key to the entire plan was the creation of the arterial road, which would divert traffic around the CBD and improve traffic flows, Mr Wilde said.

That would enable more attractive streetscapes, better pedestrian links and ensure the new public transport system being introduced later this year, which includes $2 buses, would be effective.

"There are some things [in the masterplan] that we ...  have to do — there’s no option," Mr Wilde said.

"This is one of them.

"It’s just not going to work if we don’t have the arterial."

The central area of the resort was important as the "heart of our community" but also in terms of New Zealand’s tourism proposition.

It was essential the resort’s business community continued to thrive.

"If the public realm is world class, that means people are going to want to come here and people have confidence in investment," Mr Wilde said.

"I just want the community to have a grown-up conversation ...  We are all holding this in our hands."

The council, for its part, has been clear.

No decisions have been made on any aspect of the plan.

It wants the community to provide feedback on the various aspects before any decisions are made.

A brochure gives an overview of what the council is looking at — largely through maps and diagrams relating to  aspects of the plan.

That includes the future of the Queenstown Rec Ground, surrounded by car parking, including the council-owned Boundary St car park.

One map shows the  Wakatipu Rugby Club rooms on the opposite side of the field and a new building at the western end, on what is now car parking.More buildings are shown on the car park at the eastern end of the site.

When asked, council communications and engagement manager Naell Crosby-Roe said those buildings were "for illustrative purposes only".

The council was "not able to comment" on the specific outcome for the Memorial Centre, rugby club or squash facility because those decisions would be "shaped by the feedback of the community, balanced with the needs of creating a prosperous and vibrant town centre that can be enjoyed by both the local community and visitors".

"We have, however, said that the Memorial Centre and the RSA facilities are of paramount importance and will be replaced.

"No decision has been made regarding the Boundary St car park for the same reasons outlined."

Council chief executive Mike Theelen described the  process as a "jigsaw".

For example, if the Memorial Centre was demolished to make way for the road, it and the  council offices would need to be replaced.

One site under consideration is the  Ballarat St car park, meaning alternative car parking spaces would have to be found.

Further, one map appears to show the "community heart" would  take over a site now occupied by Queenstown Playcentre.

Mr Theelen said with so many moving pieces, it was critical every decision made was the right one.

"Some of those discussions will lay down the path of development in this city for the next 50 to 100 years so we need to make the best decisions."

Public feedback on the masterplan closes on July 31. 

Comments

At the risk of being labeled a whinger by Mr Wilde it appears to me that all roads in this Master plan lead to a new council edifice in the centre of town.Is this what its really all about?