$300m plan not over yet
THE contract for his proposed Chinatown project may have now been terminated, but Peter Raymond Wang is appealing to Whitsunday Regional Council and the community to bring the development back.
On Saturday night, his son Ken Wang addressed a Chinese New Year dinner in Airlie Beach saying that very day the family had spent thousands of dollars mowing the lawn on the Waterson Way site.
Attendees were told of the Chinese proverb about how when a daughter is married her family must still look after her fortunes even though she has left them for others.
“This is our tradition in China,” Ken Wang explained, with the analogy to Waterson Way that even though the contract had been terminated, there was still good will.
Peter Wang is likewise hoping Whitsunday Chinatown Investment can reach a new understanding with council and he’s prepared to meet contractual obligations such as paying the onerous bank guarantee.
THE requirement for a $1 million bank guarantee has been a major sticking point in negotiations over the Chinatown site for several months.
Mr Wang maintains he didn’t know it was required and his lawyer Stuart Bell confirms this was the case.
“After 20 years of delivering bad news you can pick people who really don’t know something,” he said, of the moment he came on the scene and had to properly explain the contract to his client.
While Mr Wang and his associates tried hard to negotiate with council over the guarantee, there was no room to move.
From Whitsunday Chinatown Investment’s point of view it represented a culturally unpalatable lack of trust and was unfair because no other developer in the history of the Whitsundays had been dealt with under these terms.
From council’s point of view, the guarantee was a safeguard for the community that the prime site in the middle of Airlie Beach would be developed to a suitable standard in a timely manner and not simply “land-banked”.
As the stalemate continued between each party’s lawyers, rumblings in the community started to increase.
“If he doesn’t have the money for the bank guarantee, how will he pay for the $300 million project overall,” people asked.
But Mr Wang’s associates, including president of the Whitsunday branch of his China Australia Entrepreneurs Association, Mark Beale, say it’s never been about the money.
“He took his cheque book to a meeting with council and offered to pay them $500,000 then and there,” Mr Beale said, with Mr Bell adding, “he also put $500,000 in our trust account”.
This week, through an interpreter, Mr Wang said he didn’t blame council for the way negotiations had panned out and wanted to take his share of the responsibility for any language and cultural barriers to each party understanding what they were up for.
He said after months of negotiating with his investors, they were willing to pay the bank guarantee and he suggested a 50/50 split, of $500,000 after the development application was approved and $500,000 at the building approval stage.
He wanted to see the entire $1 million refunded on completion of the basement car park, he said.
Mr Beale, Mr Bell and Jimmy Duncan, who initially lodged the tender for the Chinatown development lease, all said the council didn’t have to terminate the contract in the way they did on February 3 and there were ways to keep the project alive.
“If council says, ‘we want to continue’, Peter wants to continue too. We want to re-enli- ven the contract on these revised terms,” Mr Bell said.
When asked what members of the community wanting the development to go ahead could do to help, he said being vocal was a good start. “Write to council. “We’ve got a development worth hundreds of millions of dollars – it’s probably one of the largest in the state,” he said.
At yesterday’s council meeting in Bowen, deputy mayor Andrew Willcox moved a motion that noting the termination of contract with WCI, council seek two new independent valuations of the land at 45–71 Waterson Way, resolve to sell it with a reserve price of the lower of these, authorise the CEO to form a suitable project team to finalise and settle the sale and instruct him to report monthly on the progress.
The motion lapsed for want of a seconder and consequently no-one spoke to it.
There is perhaps therefore a glimmer of hope that the door could still be open to Mr Wang and his beloved Chinatown.
DUTY OF CARE: Peter Wang with his daughter Mandy on the freshly mown grass of the Chinatown site.