Four-star hotel planned for Whangārei to meet Northland tourism boom

A major hotel chain plans to buy a site in central Whangārei and build a four-star hotel with up to 110 rooms.

Millennium and Copthorne Hotels New Zealand (MCK) announced today it had entered a conditional agreement to buy two properties next to Laurie Hall Park from the Whangārei District Council.

MCK managing director Stuart Harrison said the purchase of the 3160-square-metre site for $2.24 million was still subject to due diligence.

He believed a hotel of 90 to 110 rooms was the right size to take advantage of Northland’s increasing economic activity.

The company had reengaged with council after previously considering buying the land in 2019, Harrison said.

“As tourism in New Zealand continues to revive, this is another sign that we are looking to grow our network,” he said.

Mayor Vince Cocurullo said the city had long needed a major hotel in the CBD.

“This is a very exciting outcome, and their potential acquisition and development is one that we’ve hoped for since the sites were earmarked for hotel development in 2012,” he said.

“Our district needs a four-star hotel in the centre of the city. We need to be able to attract more conferences and events, and to cater to increasing numbers of visitors in the coming years.”

As well as a high-quality visitor experience the hotel would bring more jobs to the city, Cocurullo said.

The prime site used to be occupied by a childcare centre and a block of six single-storey flats known as Almond Court.

Laurie Hall Park, between Dent Street, Bank Street and Farmers department store, is also home to the city’s war memorial.

The Victorian villa at 10 Dent St that housed Forum North Childcare and Education Centre was removed in 2019, with the business now in a purpose-built facility on Riverside Drive.

Almond Court was demolished last year, a move opposed by a group of Whangārei architects who said the red-brick flats were unique in their architecture and social history.

At the time the council said the cost of renovating the flats, about $900,000, was far greater than any likely return on the investment.

Currently, visiting sports teams or business groups often opt to stay at the Copthorne in the Bay of Islands instead of Whangārei.

Trying to attract a large hotel to Northland’s only city has been a long-running saga, with MCK once before agreeing to buy the 8-10 Dent Street site from the council.

At that time, in 2019, the flats were still standing and the agreed price for the two properties was $2.5m.

The hotel company, however, pulled out of the deal.

On the other side of the Hātea River, Northland Development Corporation had been planning a multi-million-dollar combined hotel, apartment, event and conference centre called Ōruku Landing.

Last year, however, the government withdrew its pledge of $59m towards the $64m cost of the conference and event centre.

The future of the project, with an estimated overall price tag of $200m, is now uncertain.

News that a four-star hotel could be getting off the ground at last in Whangārei comes just months after cruise ships returned to the city for the first time in decades.

The opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre at Whangārei’s Town Basin in 2022 is said to have persuaded the cruise ship companies to put the city back on their itineraries.

Elsewhere in Northland, MCK already owns the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Bay of Islands in Waitangi and the Kingsgate Hotel in Paihia.

The Whangārei deal is expected to be finalised in the second quarter of 2024.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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