By Linda Clarke
Peter Huang has big plans for his booming Farmers Corner tourist business and he is asking the Ashburton District Council to make a change to its district plan to achieve them.
His multi-million dollar dream is to expand the complex to include unique accommodation and encourage some of the 100,000 tourists who visit the retail store on the outskirts of Tinwald to stay and spend more money in the wider community.
Peter sees that extra spend having spinoffs worth millions for the Mid Canterbury district.
Farmers Corner started out its business life as a small tearooms in Ashburton’s CBD, near the clock tower, in 1985 but with up to 29 tourists buses a day bringing visitors to the store, Peter knew it was causing parking problems and moved to SH1, at the corner of Longbeach Road, in 2004.
There he saw potential for the business of his dreams – tourists still coming by coach-load, and staying not just to shop, but to golf, go hot-air ballooning, sky dive, visit a farm, ski at Mt Hutt or on Lake Hood. They would stay overnight in a luxury lodge, or specially converted farm silos or in flash tents; a new central service hub would include restaurant and services like massage and beauty treatment.
He is asking the council to rezone 21ha at the current Farmers Corner site from Rural B to a new Rural Tourism Zone. The private plan change has just been publically notified and people have until February 27 to make a submission.
If the plan change proceeds smoothly, the whole new, expanded facility could be up and running by the summer of 2021.
Peter and wife Lilian are excited about the development and say it will be a touchpoint for all the experiences Mid Canterbury does well. They say they have got to know their mostly-Asian market well and that the extra accommodation and services will be welcomed by tour operators.
The facility would be expanded over two years, creating employment for about 50 full-time workers. Local businesses would be asked to supply services, from builders to landscapers and plumbers.
The construction phase would bring an economic benefit to the district of $11.2 million, an economic report that accompanies the plan change request, says.
Once built, Farmers Corner would generate at least 50 new jobs, increased wages and salaries of $2.625m and increased additional spending with local business of at least $12m.
Peter said while Farmers Corner was aimed at tourists, locals would be able to make use of the facilities too.
Peter, his family and the business have been working on the plan for the past four years. They hope a district plan change will be the first step in an expansion that will have economic benefits for the district and help tell Mid Canterbury’s agriculture story to an increasingly interested Asian sector.
Experience Mid Canterbury general manager Bruce Moffat said Farmers Corners was a local success story and provided a quality, high-end product that was popular with Asian travellers.
Expanding the operation to “capture” a portion of the overnight tourist market was positive news for the district and meant more tourism money would stay here.
The proposed accommodation would provide overseas tourists with a rural experience, and another link to rural-based tourism activities and attractions.
“In some ways it can be seen as a farm stay, but on a bigger scale.”
Mr Moffat said the district has “some great products” to promote to the world and the key was to keep tourists here longer.