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Chinatown Showdown

By Mark Beale

AS THE Whitsunday Times went to press yesterday afternoon, Whitsunday Regional Councillors were deciding whether to terminate the contract for a proposed Airlie Beach Chinatown development or not.

The $300 million development on Waterson Way has been led by Peter ‘Raymond’ Wang of the China Australia Entrepreneurs Association Inc (CAEAI), through a company titled Whitsunday Chinatown Investments (WCI).

Since the initial agreement was entered into in 2014, the project has been plagued by controversy, most notably surrounding building heights.

In December 2015, Mr Wang submitted a development application for a 15 storey building on the site, but his associates have always promised he will build to whatever height he is allowed.

For Mr Wang and his potential Chinese investors one of the major sticking points has been the requirement from council for a $1 million bank guarantee, something the Whitsunday Times understands is not standard procedure with the sale of council land.

Mr Wang has in the past, tried to persuade council to delay payment of the bank guarantee.

Last week, councillors voted to give him an extension to 4pm on Wednesday, February 3, by which to settle and pay the money due.

Council CEO Barry Omundson said the WCI had contacted all councillors via email on a number of occasions over the past week, requesting a further extension to February 17, due in part to the Chinese New Year.

Some members of the community have been supportive of this, with Whitsunday Ratepayers Association president David Gillman issuing an open letter to all councillors and the community (Page 8) begging: “Let’s not waste a $300 million opportunity and give Mr Wang sufficient time in which to settle Waterson Way”.

Mayor Jennifer Whitney did not take part in yesterday’s special meeting due to her “perceived” conflicts of interest arising from trips to China.

Cr Jan Clifford spoke in favour of an extension saying the job opportunities were endless.

Cr Dave Cark said he was against another extension on a project that was meant to settle on June 24 last year.

Cr John Collins agreed the delays were “outrageous”; however as an elected representative he felt the majority of his constituents weren’t saying they wanted the development to go away.

Cr John Atkinson said while council didn’t want to be seen to be bending over “we all know everyone’s crying out for work”.

Deputy mayor Andrew Willcox was against it, saying the time had come for council to “re-tender this valuable piece of land and start with a clean slate”.

The motion to give an extension until February 17 was lost through Willcox using his casting vote.

CAEAI Whitsunday spokesperson Jimmy Duncan, who was present, expressed his disappointment saying the size and scale of the project was something not seen in the shire before “and practically speaking it won’t again”.

“I’m in the development industry and these sorts of developments are few and far between even in peak times,” he said. Council CEO Barry Omundson confirmed as per the resolution last week, the contract would now be terminated.

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