Monday, September 27, 2010

Sky City set to lose National Convention Centre bid

For all intents and purposes the possibility of Sky City Entertainment Group Ltd [SKC.NZX] getting the go ahead from politicians for the right to build and operate a National Convention Centre with the benefit of taxpayer money and all the business that would bring to the SKC gaming floor is pretty much dead and buried.

I have easily come to this conclusion because over the last week Mayoral candidates John Banks and Len Brown have both come out and backed the new Auckland "Supercity" and its bid for a convention centre in and around the Aotea Centre.

The Sky City and council bids are 2 of 5 that are bidding to build the national Convention Centre, at a cost of around $400 million, but politics has taken over sense in the Mayoral race because it wouldn't be seen as "fair" to subsidise a company like SKC for them to build an asset that they would benefit from - after all it is a big bad casino!

The thing is though, any winner in the race to build a convention centre would get the benefit of the taxpayer subsidy so the issue of favouritism would only be one of Council vs private business and this argument was won by private business many decades ago. Private business always does it better.

The only other arguments that remain are which is the best site and what will be the running costs be.

I agree with the NZ Herald that the best convention site would be a central city one, so that rules out the the ASB Showgrounds bid at Greenlane. A Ngati Whatua proposal for Quay Park, alongside the Vector Arena, and an Infratil Ltd [IFT.NZX] bid for the Wynyard Quarter .

The Herald is wrong about picking the council development though.

Sky City is the most appropriate site in terms of its centrality to the city and its amenities.

It is close to all the best hotel rooms, including Sky's almost 1000 rooms and its 3000 carparks, close to the tourist area of the Viaduct harbour, close to the best restaurants in Auckland, central to most public transport routes and motorways and the easiest to develop because of the sites undeveloped nature.

The big plus though will be the ongoing subsidisation by Sky City for the running costs of the convention centre, which will run into many 10s of million per annum. Of course if the council bid wins, these costs will be bourne by the Auckland ratepayer and they are clearly substantial.

Convention Centres do not make money as a standalone businesses and the justification for them being built is that they "bring custom to the city and surrounding businesses". This is the main reason that both Sky City and the council want to build their respective convention centres.

In my opinion then, the best place for a National Convention Centre is at the Sky City Complex. It will cost the taxpayer and ratepayer less initially and the ongoing cost savings would be the biggest advantage. It is also is in the best most central site, that is probably the most recognised man made icon in Auckland from just about every part of the city.

It looks like the Auckland City Council bid is locked and loaded though and that is a missed opportunity that will cost Auckland ratepayers dearly for many more years to come.


Disclosure
: I own SKC shares in the Share Investor Portfolio


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Sky City Entertainment Group @ Share Investor


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