The prospect of America's Cup boats racing off the coast of Mount Maunganui in 2021 came a step closer this week.
A high-powered delegation of Dick Meacham, Kevin Shoebridge and Ray Davies from Emirates Team New Zealand was hosted by Tauranga Yacht Club commodore Nick Wrinch on Wednesday.
Their mission was to consider Tauranga as an alternative to Auckland to host the America's Cup Challenger series and the America's Cup finals between January and March 2021.
Planning for Auckland to host the event is moving too slowly for Team New Zealand's liking. A venue has to be announced by August next year and if the deadline is not met, the America's Cup regatta will be moved to Italy.
Wrinch was impressed with the positivity shown by the delegation that was not daunted by the challenge of building the infrastructure to house the event village at the Port of Tauranga.
"The guys are very much the type of people who are used to dealing with problems and sorting things out. We look at it and think 'how would you ever do that' and they look at it and go 'let's fix it'. They don't see mountains as big as we do," Wrinch said.
"Look, I still think it is a small chance we would do it in Tauranga but it is a possible chance. The key thing is to have an open mind."
The message was clear from Team New Zealand that the last thing they want to see happen is for the America's Cup series to go to Italy, Wrinch said.
"So they were thinking if Auckland doesn't work out, then have we got other options in New Zealand we could consider. I think that was really the purpose of their trip.
"I think they are also quite keen for the news to come out that they had been in Tauranga. It might just wake the ideas up of a few people in Auckland and not to take for granted that it will be in Auckland come what may.
"If that is our contribution, then it is probably quite a useful one as no one wants to see it in Italy."
The Team New Zealand visitors went out through the heads past Mauao to view the potential race area before meeting with Port of Tauranga officials.
"There is plenty of room out there. There is not shipping piloted through the middle of it. There is a separate zone between Karewa and Motiti (Islands) that is handy to the harbour so they don't have to travel for 40 or 50 minutes to get out there," Wrinch said.
"They need about three hectares for the actual bases so we just have to wait and see. The Port (of Tauranga) has created the deep water access so they are the controlling factor."
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns believes Team New Zealand would like to get Auckland over the line but acknowledged Tauranga was the only alternative.
"We discussed a whole range of issues. From a New Zealand incorporated perspective, if the choice is between Italy and New Zealand we would be pulling out all stops to make it work," Cairns said.
"The port has a track record of always looking to say yes, rather than saying no, but in terms of hotel accommodation clearly Auckland is the better bet to showcase New Zealand to the rest of the world.
"But if you look at where it was held last time, Bermuda has a population of around 60,000 with three hotels. We can certainly accommodate the cruise ships and for the solutions for the land they need we would certainly move heaven and earth if the choice was Italy."
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless was excited about the concept of Tauranga hosting the America's Cup but realistic about the chances of it happening.
"It would be fantastic but I don't want to get my hopes up because there could be various reasons why they are doing this. One might be to cause Auckland to make a decision if they think it could possibly go elsewhere," he said.
"Also from our point of view, where would the money to fund all this come from? I don't think we have surplus money floating around. If the government is prepared do it, that would be wonderful and we would love to host it."
Brownless sees potential in the Tauranga region being part of a support base to Auckland hosting the event.
"Realistically we could be the base for some of the teams that come to New Zealand to practice. That is another possibility that would probably be easiest to achieve."