Landowner Cornwall Park Trust Board is poised to reopen the famous gates later this month: first for the Auckland Food Show, then as a Covid-19 mass vaccination centre.

The need to use Auckland’s big eight hectare ASB Showgrounds as a vaccination centre has proved the circuit-breaker to enable the troubled events centre to resume trading – under the control of the landowner, Cornwall Park Trust Board.

For the events industry, it’s a delicious irony. Covid-19 shut them down despite a petition to Parliament; now, Covid-19 is opening them up again.

The not-for-profit Auckland Agricultural Pastoral and Industrial Shows Board laid off its last staff and called in the liquidator last month, blaming a million-dollar rent rise sought by the Trust Board, and Covid shutdowns that forced them to cancel dozens of events at a cost of $4 million.

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This week, liquidator Paul Vlasic has handed back control of the property to the Trust Board, and sold the board some of the other assets that they will need to begin operating again. “While we will no longer be operating on-site, we will continue to work to recover creditors’ funds,” he says. “It remains a complex situation, with lots of moving parts, and we greatly appreciate everyone’s patience.”

The repossession is good news for the Shows Board’s creditors, avoiding seeing their money dissipating into rent liabilities. Chief among these is its sponsor and banker, ASB Bank, which is owed $3 million.

Other creditors include Inland Revenue (owed $683,000), Ricoh Finance ($55,000), and Davis Trading Company and other creditors ($905,000). Some of the last 16 staff are owed $211,000 in redundancy payments – but as unsecured creditors, they will be last in line to get their money.

The stadiums arm of the council-owned events company Auckland Unlimited is understood to have offered its experienced staff to manage the showgrounds for the Food Show and subsequent events, expected to include the famous Homes Show. “We’ve had confirmation that we can run the Food Show as scheduled,” said show promoter Brent Spillane, “so yes, that is very positive.”

And a grouping of Auckland district health boards is in talks to hire the grounds twice, between August and November, to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to up to 15,000 people.

Matt Hannant, the vaccination programme director for the Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre, told Newsroom health officials were planning for large scale vaccination events in Auckland as part of the Group 4 roll out. The first one would be held over three days in south Auckland, towards the end of July.

“We are currently planning for vaccination events similar to other international models, where a large number of people have the opportunity to be vaccinated over a short period in one location,” he explained. “The capacity of these large-scale events will be between 5,000 and 15,000 people depending on the size of the event.”

The first mass vaxx event is anticipated to be at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau. “We have explored a number of sites, including the ASB Showground and others across Auckland,” Hannant acknowledged. “We are currently confirming the details for the final sites.”

“The events are then repeated later on so people can get their second doses. These large-scale events will help to provide the community with another choice of how they want to be vaccinated, alongside community vaccination centres, general practices and pharmacies.

“In the meantime, there are many other ways for people to get vaccinated across metro Auckland, including at our 12 community vaccination centres and through our GP and pharmacy partners.”

Nick Carey and his family show off their premium locally-sourced beef at the last food show that was allowed to go ahead this year. Photo: Joaquin Dibbern / Green Meadows Beef

The news of the showgrounds resuming trading has been welcomed by Food Show exhibitors like Nick Carey, from Taranaki family faming business Green Meadows Beef, and Darryl Clarke from Show TV in Tauranga.

Clarke had presented a 300-signature petition to a Parliamentary select committee, pleading for big events like the Food Show and the Home Show to be allowed to proceed, with proper precautions, under level 2 restrictions.

The danger, still, is that community transmission could again send Auckland into level 2 – and the Food Show would again have to be cancelled at the last minute, leaving exhibitors like Nick Carey with thousands of dollars work of wasted fresh food.

Cornwall Park Trust Board chair Adrienne Young-Cooper said the liquidator’s decision today to disclaim the lease meant the Trust Board was now in possession of the site and buildings and consequently was able to make some decisions regarding the Showgrounds’ immediate future.

“We have consistently said we would consider any proposals that would allow the Showgrounds to continue to operate on an appropriate commercial footing,” she said.

“We have worked with the liquidator to ensure that the infrastructure a new operator will need to get the Showgrounds up and running remains in place. To achieve that, the Cornwall Park Trust Board has purchased some of the key operating assets from the liquidator.

“However, until the lease agreement was officially terminated, we were unable to deal directly with people wanting to put forward proposals to run the Showgrounds site.”

Young-Cooper said the Board was working on an interim solution that would allow the Showgrounds to open again, but some issues were yet to be resolved. It was too soon to set a date for that work to be complete.

“While we want to see this finalised as soon as possible, a rushed solution would not give potential exhibitors and other stakeholders the certainty they need, nor would it ensure our long-term interests were protected.”

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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