Aucklanders have three weeks to comment on a $25 million plan to revitalise Aotea Square and turn it into the city's premier civic open space, able to host events for 20,000 people.
Urban design professionals are divided over the draft plans for the square, which opened in 1979 and has been on the drawing board for a makeover since 2000.
Progress is finally being made because of the need to repair and strengthen the Civic carpark's leaky roof at a cost of $45 million, which involves removing the front steps of the Aotea Centre.
This has allowed a $10 million facelift for the Aotea Centre in the form of a new set of steps centred on the front entrance, and a new box office and cafe.
The project will cost $80 million, nearly twice the $43.5 million spent on upgrading Queen St.
The new carpark roof will raise the level of Aotea Square by 1m, leading to a widened and levelled paved area.
Red granite pavers will be used, and long bench seats wide enough for people to sit on will be both sides.
Other features include three stepped grass areas leading towards a new paved area in the sunniest spot at the south end.
Trees over the carpark will be removed and the proposal is to replace them with nikau palms, kowhai and other natives.
The city council's arts, culture and recreation committee chairman, Greg Moyle, said it was important that people have their say on revitalising Aotea Square and turning it into a premier open space for events, festivals, civic receptions and concerts.
The council's urban design champion, Ludo Campbell-Reid, said it was a critical project for the city. He was proud of the design-led plans for an international-standard square with a distinctive Auckland flavour.
But the council's urban design panel has panned the plans as presented to it in April, saying they would not achieve the aim of making the square the city's "unchallenged premier civic open space and pre-eminent venue for public activity".
The panel was concerned that the project excluded the area behind the Town Hall and around the Civic Building and was proceeding without a clear masterplan for the precinct.
Among other things, it was concerned at the "unco-ordinated relationship" between design elements, including art works, carpark ventilation shafts, public toilets, low height walls and seats.
The panel did not have a problem with exotic trees.
The council has responded to some of the concerns and the panel is due to cast another eye over the latest proposals.
Mr Moyle said the design was not a done deal, although what a council report calls "additional quality improvements" are likely to increase the $25 million pricetag.
Mayor John Banks is "lukewarm" towards the design, and indicated a willingness to spend more on a better design if that is what the public wanted.
But once the design and cost were finalised, Mr Banks said he would make himself personally accountable for bringing the project in on budget.
Work on the project is due to begin in November and must be completed by October 2010 so conferences to resume at the Aotea Centre.
The Aotea Centre will stay open for concerts and other cultural events during the construction period.
The carpark roof will be repaired in stages so that most of the carpark can remain open for public use.
HAVE YOUR SAY
* Public consultation runs until August 1.
* An information booth will be open in Aotea Square on July 17 (11am-2pm), July 18 (10am-5pm), July 19 (10am-5pm), July 24 (11am-2pm), July 25 (10am-5pm), July 26 (10am-5pm).