Some councils are, shall we say, slow learners.
The former Hastings Council bungled Ocean Beach badly, getting too cozy with Hill Country at the outset, even if they were disposed to make some kind of “deal” with Andy Lowe.
Let’s say, generously, that they were outmaneuvered.
But now they’re doing the same thing all over again, this time with Kelt Capital and the Regional Sports Park.
And this time the process seems deliberately manipulative.
Here’s what makes the process smell fishy.
It starts with the demolition of Nelson Park, which necessitates reconstruction of a track and field facility. OK, we accept that.
But along comes Sam Kelt, saying something like: “Wait, not good enough. I have a bigger, grander idea, and I’ll put it all together for you.” The Mayor and Council genuflect …
And then proceed to enter a consulting arrangement with Kelt Capital, paying the firm $16,667 per month from March to June 2007 to progress Kelt’s own idea, and $25,000 per month since then. I’ll bet we could all come up with some ideas that we’d like to sell the Council for $25,000 a month … but then you and I aren’t Sam Kelt.
Then, in the last Council meeting of 2007 before new Councillors were elected, the lame duck Council votes (hmmm, what urgency?!) to approve the Sports Park project, “conditional” of course on thorough consultation with the public.
Yeah right! While we wait for that public consultation, the Mayor and new Council proceed as though this is a done deal. For months the news coverage confirms that impression. The Council has even approved buying the entire amount of land the Sports Park would occupy, even though the project is not yet officially in the District Plan (LTCCP). Forgive us for being skeptical about “consultation,” but what are you going to consult us on Councillors, the Grand Opening date?
Meantime, the Mayor sits, until now, on an independent study of the viability of the concept, commissioned at the instigation of the (skeptical?) Napier and Regional Councils, and delivered last November. Of course the public hasn’t heard of this study, much less seen it. Sources outside HDC say that the report raises serious questions about the viability of the Sports Park.
One wonders if it has been shared by Council(s) with the independent commissioners now assessing the Plan Change that would enable the complex to be built on Hawke’s Bay’s most productive land!
If and when “public consultation” occurs, and I use that term loosely under the circumstances, here are just a few questions (of potentially dozens) that should be addressed in public before total capitulation to Kelt Capital:
1. Can the funding plan withstand closer scrutiny? For example, are the Regional and Napier Councils really committed to investing $3 million each in the “Regional” Sports Park (one Napier-based councillor calls it the Hastings Sports Park)? And exactly what are the Hastings “assets” that will be sold to raise another $1.4 million? … Some that would really alarm the community, we hear. Is the project already over budget? There are other soft spots in the funding plan as well.
2. Then there’s the ongoing expense side. How firm and thoroughly examined are the revenues that will ensure the facility is rates neutral, as the Mayor promises? Are they better sussed out than the revenue estimates for the Splash Planet fiasco? Will they cover the debt servicing that will be spread before us for years?
3. Other than local sports officialdom, to whom Mayor Yule must be Santa Claus, who wants this thing? Does anyone really believe that soccer teams and doubles partners from Wairoa (or even Napier) are going to
bike rush over to Hastings to use this “regional” facility? Not likely … residents of Havelock North won’t even go that far!
It’s simply astonishing that so much has not been answered about what might be the most expensive capital project the HDC has ever undertaken. Yet the Council just steamrolls ahead.
Pretty soon (if not already), HDC will have spent enough on the project that the Council refrain will become … “We’re already so invested; we can’t turn back now.” Sound like Ocean Beach? It seems to be the Mayor’s favorite argument when pushing projects that have little public support.
Though clearly I’m skeptical, a Regional Sports Park might be the greatest idea since Splash Plant. If so, one would expect that a fully transparent process of examination to confirm its brilliance.
But unfortunately, we can’t get to the substance, because the process is fouled … and that’s not cricket.