Last week news of a proposed hotel development on the site of the Skyline Restaurant at the top of the cable car appeared on the front page of the Dominion Post. The article had salacious details of ‘clandestine dealings’, ‘contractual agreements’, the public and media banned from meetings behind closed doors at WCC and a proposal to revoke the reserve status of an area of the Botanic Gardens to allow for a hotel on the site.
There are councillors for and against the proposal – some in favour of retaining the reserve status and keeping the site for public activity, and others supporting the free market and development who see no reason for the site to be a reserve.
The land of the Skyline Restaurant and car park, is owned by WCC and is subject to the Reserves Act 1977 and the Wellington Botanic Garden Vesting Act 1891 which ‘provides that the land is to be held and used ‘as a place of public recreation and enjoyment for the inhabitants of the City of Wellington’’. These acts place restrictions on the use of the site but WCC can lease out the land provided the activity is consistent with the requirements of the acts. In the past permitted activities have covered a range of uses including a restaurant, function centre, and cafe.
Panorama Ltd purchased the lease in January and there does seem to have been a bit of manoeuvering by the new tenant. At the time of negotiating and purchasing the lease and building the tenant was proposing to use the existing building as a gallery, museum or exhibition centre and wanted both the Wellington Botanic Garden Vesting Act and the Reserves Act to be revoked to allow for these uses. When it became apparent that these acts didn’t need to be removed or changed to allow for those activities the tenant changed their position, claiming the activities originally proposed did not make it economically viable to invest in the property. The tenant is now proposing a three-storey 24-room hotel as the only feasible option for the site, and this would need a revocation the reserve status.
The existing Skyline Restaurant building was built in 1984 and is certainly in need of some development. Even the WCC Strategy and policy committee report on the proposal notes:
‘It is generally agreed that the building design and layout is flawed and not suitable for the site and a significant change is needed for the site to be successful and for it to contribute positively to this key area of the City. A reconfigured building with more obvious links to the Botanic Garden and surrounding activities would better serve the city and its visitors.’
But the current tenant seems determined to have the reserve status revoked, resorting to threats to let the building fall into disrepair if that status is not change.
So does this site really require a change in legal status, as the developer insists, or is a new and improved building enough to make the site a viable business proposition?