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An artist's impression of the central courtyard in Invercargill's proposed $200m inner city development. Image: Supplied

THE key figure behind the bold $200 million inner-city overhaul has declared it the “last chance” for Invercargill to get the city centre right.

The project is a joint venture between Invercargill City Council-owned Holdco and HWR Property Ltd, an arm of the HW Richardson Group Ltd.

HWCP Management Ltd director Scott O’Donnell said a “wealthy” city like Invercargill deserved better than what it had in place at the moment.

He pointed to a planned attempt in 1994 to transform the CBD which did not end up going ahead. He believed Invercargill could not afford to get it wrong this time.

“This is our last chance,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“The Winter Gardens project was ’94 and that failed and we’ve seen nothing since.

“A town of our scale and our wealth… if we can’t find a way to give economic returns to shareholders – but also a return to ratepayers in a place that is great to live – it’s a bit sad isn’t it.

“We’ve got $400m of public capital in this town, between what Holdco has, the Invercargill Licensing Trust, and the Community Trust.

“Why should we do it? Because we really need to. Things are far from good. You walk through the centre of town now and it is empty and it is run down.

“We have probably let the town spread too far, but that is history. We can’t fix history, but it is important we look ahead to the future.”

The block between Tay and Esk Sts, bordered by Dee and Kelvin Sts, would largely be demolished and replaced by an almost entirely undercover retail precinct.

It would include an anchor retailer, modern food court, medical centre, new HW Richardson Group building, and space for 1000 car parks.

Mr O’Donnell said the plan was to have the consent application to the city council by July 30 with the hope demolition on the buildings would start early next year.

The build was expected to take three to five years and Mr O’Donnell suggested 300 to 500 new jobs would be created as a result of the construction boom in Invercargill during that time.

At the same time the city centre redevelopment would take place, the Invercargill Licensing Trust was planning to build a new inner-city hotel, and the council had its sights on building a new arts and creativity centre.

With housing stocks in Invercargill already stretched, Mr O’Donnell believed the city would need 600 new dwellings to cater for what was ahead.

“You think about what people are paying for rent in Auckland and what they pay construction workers.

“We are probably not paying them less, but their rent will be half as much [in Invercargill]. So… Invercargill can afford to go and build something and get a return on it. It would be great to get the housing stock replenished.”

While the Richardson Group and the ICC had teamed up to trigger the start of the project, other funding options were being investigated.

It included early discussions with the Community Trust of Southland and Ngai Tahu Property.

A possible syndicated $15m share with various owners was also being looked at.

Mr O’Donnell expected they were still “six to eight weeks” away from being able to confirm who the anchor retailer would be in the redeveloped block.

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