Michael Barnett: Cloud a worthy monument to NZ creativity

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The Cloud on Queens Wharf. Photo / Richard Robinson.
The Cloud on Queens Wharf. Photo / Richard Robinson.

RWC standout deserves permanent role, writes Michael Barnett.

A decision due shortly on the future of the distinctive Cloud structure on Queens Wharf, built for the Rugby World Cup, will test our resolve to take a provocative shape and form and build a lasting legacy from the event.

Easily visible from the Harbour Bridge and ferries and other boats plying the Waitemata, the unique Cloud design stands out as a constant reminder of our successful hosting of the RWC - both on and off the field. Unfortunately it is also beginning to represent a lack of creative thinking and action from central and local government despite approaches from organisations that could make good partners in determining an interesting and productive use of the venue.

During RWC 2011 the Cloud showed off New Zealand business and helped to reposition us as more than a provider of bags of milk powder, sides of lamb or sauvignon blanc. The conclusion we wanted visitors to draw was that NZ was innovative, creative and driven by ingenuity. Our underlying message was - we do things differently here.

A survey of visitors to the Cloud during the RWC confirmed the project's success.

Before visiting the Cloud most international visitors did not consider New Zealand to be innovative, and instead saw us as friendly, straightforward, hard working and laid back. After a visit to the Cloud, those initial core brand values were maintained but the ratings increased in other areas - for creativity by 73 per cent, innovation by 66 per cent and technological advancement by 19 per cent.

I suggest the Cloud structure itself was pivotal in helping to shift the New Zealand image from not just a wonderful place to visit, but also a nation producing high-end, edgy, aspirational products and services. A broader sense of New Zealand business capability and thinking emerged: "Smart business by smart people."

What we achieved at the Cloud was a small gain. The Cloud's real significance is yet to be fully tested. If the Cloud crystallised the possibility of a new image of ourselves as an innovative and highly inventive nation, Auckland's challenge and opportunity is to leverage this success and think differently, so that what we do with the Cloud enables us to optimise its use and allows Auckland to remain highly visible on the world stage.

Shortly, Waterfront Auckland, which has a short-term contract to manage the $9.8 million Cloud structure for its government owners, will report to Auckland councillors on future options.

In the eight months since the Cup, the Cloud has successfully hosted a number of small events but, as with a number of the new facilities on Auckland's waterfront, it is under-utilised.

So do we mothball the Cloud? Does Auckland Council take ownership? Or are the council and government content to use it occasionally, or pull it down or maybe sell and relocate it to someone wanting to make better use of it elsewhere?

As things appear to stand at the moment, the future of the Cloud will become another example of Wellington-Auckland ownership-management differences over the waterfront creating a mood among the players of "it's all too hard". Or, like so many other good opportunities I have seen in the past, is Auckland going to also let this one lapse and then look back for decades saying "if only"?

But it need not. The just-approved Auckland Plan sets a goal to reshape Auckland's economy as innovation-based and export-led. With some imagination and creative leadership and sponsorship, the Cloud could have a role as a permanent expression for an Auckland-New Zealand international campaign to build on our Cup and Business Showcase success.

The opportunities are endless and the Cloud and its creators deserve better than what we have seen since the end of the RWC. During that event Auckland's waterfront - and in particular Queens Wharf - became a destination where international interest was raised and locals took pride in a structure that was an expression of some new thinking. It's all very well talking of legacy from major events but failing to capitalise on success and take advantage of the huge investment all New Zealanders have made in the Cloud seems criminal.

As well as the Cloud, the Vector Arena, Eden Park, the revamped Auckland Showgrounds and Manukau's Pacific Events Centre we have new event venues at Wynyard Quarter and the promise of an international-city-scale conference centre at SkyCity.

We should use the Cloud's unique design and show our success as a symbol of what is possible for New Zealand's only international city of scale.

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and co-ordinated the establishment and operation of the Cloud.

- NZ Herald

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