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Big box...Timaru District Holdings Ltd chair Ian Fitzgerald (right) pictured with TDHL general manager Frazer Munro, says the showgrounds development will be "big box" and would complement the more boutique orientated CBD. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Timaru District Holdings Ltd (TDHL) has rejected claims that it has not followed safeguards in the sale of Timaru’s former AP showgrounds.

“Last year we put in safeguards. We restricted the number of retail to nine large-format retail and we would retain a portion of land for the future,” TDHL chairman Ian Fitzgerald said.

There had been confusion in the resource consent process, he said, as there was some provision for several food and beverage outlets and businesses such as a beautician.

“We could have been clearer about that.”

Newly appointed TDHL general manager Frazer Munro said the scale would be similar to the smaller shops adjoining the New World supermarket in Highfield, Timaru.

“We’ve discouraged the developer from taking tenants from the CBD and we’ve done that with nine large-format retail. They’re huge,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

The development was still dependent on developer Tony Gapes and his company, Redwood QT, gaining resource consent, which was part of TDHL’s required due diligence.

If confirmed, the sale would be complete.

Mr Fitzgerald said he believed TDHL had mitigated any impact on the CBD.

“Big-box retail competes with online shopping. The CBD is a much more boutique operation.

“Timaru is losing retail to Christchurch. The development will bring spend into the district and help Geraldine, Twizel and Waimate. There will be an overflow.

“We think we have got the balance right and it will be good for the district.

“In the contract, if he [the developer] doesn’t get the development under way we can take the land back. He can’t land-bank it.”

An accusation had been made there had been a lack of transparency over the sale.

Mr Fitzgerald said TDHL spent all of last year engaging with the Timaru District Council about the development, and it was the council which gave the go-ahead.

“I’m hesitant to express a view about the CBD. The majority of councillors said they wanted the development.”

The CBD was much more niche, he said; the council needed to work to revitalise it and he saw the CBD and showgrounds as complementing each other.

“Although I can’t speak for him, Tony Gapes is still very confident. He sees this region as growing.

“When I joined TDHL, in eight years the district has been revitalised. Even with Covid the region is growing.

“He [Mr Gapes] can attract big formats.

“I can only give an assurance he’s positive. He sees it as a long-term investment . . .”

In 2018, TDHL paid $1.7million for properties from 101 to 123 in southern Stafford St, with the intention of combining them as a single 3700sqm site and on-selling to a developer.

The buildings remain unsold.

Asked if Mr Gapes had shown any interest in that site, Mr Fitzgerald said: “We were told it was too small.”

“We had a couple of cheeky approaches which we declined. We don’t have a firm proposal there and Covid has not helped.”

Mr Munro said with the upgrade of the Theatre Royal and development of a heritage area opposite, the buildings could act as an enticement for investors.