Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully scarcely hid his disappointment with Auckland's local government yesterday when he "reluctantly" announced that Queens Wharf will get a cheap, temporary, Government-funded makeover for the event next year. The Prime Minister has also declared disappointment at "the continued inability of the elected mayors to agree on a sensible way forward". They clearly believe the decision might have been different if a single mayor and council were already installed.
Many things would be different. The wharf newly acquired for public use would have come under the wing of a specialised waterfront agency to be answerable to the new Auckland Council. The agency will be responsible for co-ordinating all the recent and planned public development of the waterfront from the tank farm to Queens Wharf and possibly further east.
It should be able to produce a plan incorporating not just all the old wharves but Quay St, the Viaduct Harbour, the whole precinct between Fanshawe St and the sea, and Westhaven. As wharves are acquired they will be developed in accordance with the plan, not burdened with a building hastily designed for a big but one-off event.
The World Cup does not need a swept-up development of Queens Wharf even if the Government was convinced otherwise when it agreed to share the cost of the purchase with the Auckland Regional Council last year.
Now a more modest cruise ship terminal is to be provided for two vessels that will be floating hotels for Cup followers.
The presence of the ships will doubtless turn the wharf into a party zone no matter what else is provided there. Mr McCully and the regional council chairman, Mike Lee, did not offer much more detail yesterday, but since the unsightly green sheds are likely to survive until the Cup, both could be venues for a big screen, bars and entertainment.
"Party central" it might yet be, but the wharf was never going to have a monopoly on Auckland's "fan zones", as Cup organisers call them. Several sites in the central city will feature big screens and all the entertainment provided near the venues of major international sports events these days.
The Viaduct's Te Wero Island was well up for that purpose during the America's Cup defences. The Auckland City Council had similar plans at Aotea Square for the World Cup before the Queens Wharf purchase. Some have suggested Vector Arena might be a better place for "party central" considering the weather.
Spring is Auckland's windiest and wettest season. The party will need a warm and dry refuge. Vector Arena might be too far from Queen St and be too much of an auditorium to have an inviting atmosphere. Britomart train station might have better possibilities. Or better still, if a lifting bridge was slung across the Viaduct Harbour entrance, the barns left by America's Cup syndicates are ready-made for a party.
The mayors have done well to accept an additional $40 million liability for the upgrading of Eden Park. The park trust board hopes to fund that sum from additional sponsorship but the ratepayers' guarantee will probably bear the bulk of it. To commit them to nearly as much again for Queens Wharf would have been tempting fate.
Queens Wharf is already a benefit of the World Cup. It was worth buying, and worth inviting ideas to see if something suitably impressive could be constructed in time. But that was always a long shot.
With the pressure off now, there is time to find an inspired design that might be instantly and almost universally admired. It can take as long as it takes.