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$US563m Tekapo plan on track says developer

By Chris Hutching

Friday 16th June 2000

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ASPIRING: Steve Stinson and the location of the proposed development
The modest offices of Steve J Stinson do not give much away about this ex-army veteran who has reinvented himself as a property developer and claims to be about to unveil a billion dollar initiative to rejuvenate the South Island's Tekapo area.

They certainly do not indicate where exactly he is going to find the money for the wildly ambitious project.

Mr Stinson is based in Christchurch's Cashel Chambers, generally tenanted by aspiring small businesses starting out - not the usual place you expect to find the mastermind to a $US563 million property development.

But on Mr Stinson's office wall is a photograph of a multi-level three-tower office development in the Philippines that he said one of his companies built before the Asian crisis.

He claims the development cost him a $12.4 million fortune and led to a downshifting to his current working address.

Plans for his Armada group of companies are still on track and there may be a significant announcement "within 40 days," he said this week.

His $US563 million plans for the Tekapo area have been on his website for nearly 12 months (www.armadas.com) and are the subject of pub talk in the tiny town. The plans include a monorail for the Round Hill skifield, an international airport, hotels, urban villages, apartments, tavern, country club, light industrial centre, entertainment complex, marina, hospital, alpine theme park and a $48.94 million contingency fund. All the facilities would be open by January 2002, according to Mr Stinson.

The money was coming from overseas investors, he said. Consultants and firms in the project would be the same North American or Asian firms Mr Stinson has done business with in the past.

McKenzie District Council senior executives have met Mr Stinson but have yet to receive any application for a plan change and they await developments with interest given the effort he has put into the plans over the past two years.

One of the Mr Stinson's referees is retired police district commander Warwick Nicholl who confirmed he had known Mr Stinson during the 1960s when the two were involved as advisers to the police in Papua- New Guinea. Mr Stinson's resume lists his service as an Australian army officer in Vietnam and other countries.

Mr Nicholl said the two men had kept in touch on an occasional basis since that time. He was merely maintaining a watching brief on the intriguing plans.

Mr Stinson recently had plans to seek a share in the UN and World Bank contracts rebuilding war-ravaged East Timor. Through another of his companies called Cromac Group, Mr Stinson announced "long-term plans" for over $30 million of investments including land-mine clearance, a shopping centre and office development for Dili city, plastic, soap and footwear manufacturing plants, a four-star international hotel and a hotelier/tourism school. Cromac was one of a dozen companies included in a Tradenz initiative to East Timor, which has yet to bear fruit.

Tekapo business people are hoping Mr Stinson will be more successful than another Australian developer who promoted ambitious property investment plans mostly in the South Island but also to the Gisborne District Council.

For 24 months between 1996 to 1998, Arnold Neal promoted investment plans, including a draft prospectus to councils and private-sector firms for a real estate investment trust that would source $A200 million from unidentified overseas sources.

An Oamaru law firm acted for him until vendors of properties tired of endless settlement promises. In the end it appeared Mr Neal was also a casualty of the Asian crisis and faded from the scene.

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