Big hotel plans stumble

By Christine Linnell

A proposed $5 million redevelopment of a downtown Greymouth hotel precinct appears to be on the rocks as the businessman behind the project battles a growing scandal involving his bars in Dunedin.
The Otago Daily Times reported on Saturday that Dunedin developer Ben Hanssen has denied allegations he left staff out of pocket and used gang members to intimidate rivals, after an alleged incident last month that ended in a dozen hospitality workers resigning from one of his establishments.
Meanwhile, Greymouth businesses are distancing themselves from the
$4-5m redevelopment that was to turn the Railway and Royal hotels into a dining and entertainment block complete with nightclub, restaurants and outdoor seating.
Mr Hanssen initially said the project would be finished by Labour Weekend this year.
In July, the Christchurch-based landlord of the Royal Hotel, Geoff Wakelin, said Mr Hanssen had not finalised a deal to purchase the building. Then-publican Mark Gillespie said he had not reached an agreement with Mr Hanssen either: “The ‘dream team’ is all about dreams. Nothing’s happening.”
The Royal Hotel closed down for good in August.
Yesterday, Railway Hotel owner Grant Olsen also washed his hands of the project.
“I’m just doing my business,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, with the development down here, the Railway won’t be a part of it.”
Mr Hanssen has interests in Dunedin-based bars Metro, Monkey Bar, Diamond Lounge-Rumours and the Clarendon Hotel.
In September, the Otago Daily Times reported an incident on the weekend of September 20 in which concrete was allegedly poured down a drain, forcing two Dunedin bars to close their doors.
Last month, Dunedin police were investigating a related incident from the same weekend, in which a bar owner allegedly employed the services of a gang to steal equipment from a rival bar in an ongoing dispute. No arrests had been made.
The newspaper yesterday confirmed the bar owner was Mr Hanssen.
A former staff member, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said the incidents prompted a mass resignation of Metro staff, that those staff were owed thousands of dollars in wages and holiday pay, and concerns had been raised about the payment of taxes.
Mr Hanssen denied all allegations, saying: “I am not aware of any of (their claims).”
Asked specifically about gang members being used to take back equipment previously repossessed from one of his bars, he replied: ‘’I can’t see the relevance of that question’’.