Auckland Showgrounds likely open for events for another year

The shows will go on at Auckland Showgrounds – at least for another 12 months.

Following the voluntary liquidation of the board that operated the showgrounds, a new venture between the landowner the Cornwall Park Trust and a new operator has opened a way for events and exhibitions to continue, at least in the short term.

New operator, the NZ Exhibition & Events Company (NZEEC), has a 12-month licence from the park trust board to operate at the iconic 8ha site.

While this will come as a relief to event promoters understood to have booked out space at the site for the next few months, what the Cornwall Park Trust board plans for the premium land after the year is up can only be speculated.

Board chair Adrienne Young-Cooper said the agreement with NZEEC allowed the facility to keep running “while we fully evaluate options for the showgrounds’ long-term operating structure”.

Companies Office records show the 50 per cent shareholder of NZEEC is Mark Frankham, who has managed the showgrounds for around 15 years for the previous long-time operator, the Auckland Agricultural Pastoral and Industrial Shows Board, a charity.

This board’s directors placed the charity in voluntary liquidation last month, after a proposed big rent hike by the Cornwall Park Trust board and the impact on cashflows of a string of major show cancellations caused by Covid restrictions combined to jeopardise its solvency.

It is thought Frankham, who could not be contacted, and his two partners in NZEEC have likely entered a management agreement with the Cornwall Park Trust board and will clip the ticket for a percentage of takings from events that will go back to the trust board.

Investments by the previous showgrounds operator on the land include buildings valued at $100 million.

The showgrounds board warned in the Herald in March that the future of the showgrounds was in peril, as it struggled to see how to remain solvent in the face of major event cancellations due to Covid-19 restriction measures and a proposed rent hike by the Cornwall Park Trust, itself a charity.

The showgrounds’ only income is from shows, events and concerts.

In normal times the showgrounds host more than 250 exhibitions and events a year, attracting over 1.3 million visitors. The top 20 major shows generate more than $35m for the Auckland and New Zealand economies.

Earlier this year due to Covid lockdowns and alert responses the 150-year-old showgrounds lost four major events, including the Home Show and the Royal Easter Show.

Last year 14 major events were cancelled due to the pandemic response, plus 11 smaller shows and concerts.

On top of its income drying up, the showgrounds’ board, created under a 1972 Act of Parliament, was in arbitration with its landlord, the Cornwall Park Trust, over a proposed hike in its $750,000 a year rent. The park trust’s starting point for negotiation was $2.3m a year.

The board spent more than $750,000 in legal and other fees trying to resolve the rent issue, said chairman Kim Campbell.

He said the park trust and the showgrounds board were “still millions apart” when directors called in the liquidator.

Cornwall Park Trust’s Young-Cooper told the Herald the trust three times offered the showgrounds board a rental between the $900,000 arrived at by the showgrounds board’s valuer, and the park trust valuer’s $2.3m. The showgrounds board rejected the offer, she said.

The first liquidator report by Paul Vlasic of Rodgers Reidy showed ASB Bank, which held naming rights for the showgrounds until last month, is the main creditor, owed $2.99 million. A number of other secured creditor claims are still to be investigated.

Preferential creditors, including the Inland Revenue, are owed about $1.5m.

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