Word on the not-so-secret development on southern High St is finally out – Lower Hutt is to get its first “four-star-plus” hotel.

Concept drawings unveiled on Monday afternoon show a smart-looking complex featuring two towers. They will house 60 studio and one-bedroom apartments under the Sebel brand, with the complex operating as part of Accor Hotels – one of the world’s largest hotel groups, present in 92 countries.

Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace has described the new hotel, closely aligned with the new events centre under construction next to the town hall, as a “game-breaker” and a very exciting step in the rejuvenation of downtown Lower Hutt.

The hotel developer is USAR Commercial Assets Ltd, the directors of which are husband and wife Raman and Anurahda Sarin, who have extensive experience in accommodation and events centre operations.

The city council has offered USAR a 20-year contract, with rights of renewal, to run the new Events Centre. USAR will pay the city an annual fee under the deal; the amount was not disclosed as part of Monday’s announcement because of “commercial sensitivity”.

However, experienced tourism sector consultant Stephen Hamilton, who has been advising the council, noted that previously the horticultural and town halls had cost ratepayers to run. Now the earthquake-strengthened and modernised town hall and adjacent new Events Centre would contribute to council coffers.

Hamilton said in effect the Sarins were taking on the commercial risk that the Events Centre would win the greater share of conferences, expos and shows the city was chasing, as well as bringing to the Lower Hutt the most upmarket hotel it had ever had.

The council had been clever to market the opportunity as a “package” and Raman Sarin’s bid was “far and away the best proposal” of the seven submitted, “probably exceeding council’s expectations”, Hamilton said.

The hotel and events centre would bring up to 90 new jobs and is projected to inject between $55m and $75m into the local economy over the next 20 years.

There has been criticism the council has spent $3.5 million buying out land and leases in southern High St.

City development manager Gary Craig said USAR would pay for the councl for the site “at fair value”. Fairfax Media asked whether that would be the same amount the city council had forked out and was told it would be “market value of the site for this development” as determined by independent valuation.

It has also been revealed that the city council was the purchaser of the 10-storey former BNZ bank building at 177 High St in Lower Hutt.

Sarin had bought the 10-storey building in 2007 for $3.535m. It was bought by a Wellington solicitor (as it now transpires, acting for Hutt City Council) for $2.8m earlier this year.

Wallace and Deputy Mayor David Bassett insist the two property deals did not in any way hinge on each other; Sarin didn’t even know the council was the behind-the-scenes purchaser of the BNZ building, they said.

Wallace said all going to plan the council expected to announce more exciting news for the city in relation to 177 High St, hopefully within a few months.

Raman Sarin lives in Auckland but said he felt right at home in Wellington.

It was a lead role at the Intercontinental Hotel in Wellington that brought him to New Zealand 10 years ago. “Quite a bit of our portfolio is still here [in Wellington].”

Over the last 40 years he has been involved in developing, owning and managing 29 hotels and serviced apartments.

“Hospitality is my family’s life and we look forward to this new adventure in Lower Hutt,” he said.

He said he also had 25 years’ experience managing events centres, including the National Convention Centre of Canberra Australia, the Ashok in New Delhi, India and closer to home, the VR Rotorua Lake Resort.

Another experienced industry operator, Peter Norrie of the Angus Inn, told Hutt News last month the wider Wellington accommodation market was extremely competitive. He suggested then that only council sweeteners would make a new hotel in Lower Hutt viable.

But Sarin said many executives and visitors who have business to do in Lower Hutt, or have family to visit, head to Wellington because the standard of accommodation facilities they want is “missing from ‘traditional’ operators [in the Hutt]”.

Assuming the resource consent bid goes smoothly, the new hotel in southern High St should be built by the end of 2016.

That dovetails with the plan to open the new Events Centre and upgraded town hall in late February 2017.

Source: Stuff – Hutt News