Auckland City Council took almost five hours last night to vote for a $500 million-plus waterfront stadium as long as it goes "substantially" further east than the Government's proposed site.
In a furious debate stalled for half an hour at the outset by the police eviction of a protester and her banner, the council voted 13-7 for the waterfront stadium instead of a $385 million revamp of Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
A call by Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker for the stadium to either go all the way to busy Bledisloe Wharf or to Eden Park was dismissed by other councillors as "a bridge too far" which risked jeopardising the city's relationship with the Auckland Regional Council, owner of the port company.
That will not be lost on regional chairman Mike Lee, who sat through most of the debate before leaving to catch some sleep for his own council's decision-making session on the stadium starting at 9.30am.
Dr Hucker warned that Aucklanders would "live to regret the consequences" if the city ignored the concerns of a vast majority of urban design professionals that the Government's nominated site across Captain Cook and Marsden wharves would significantly damage the entire Britomart precinct.
But at the end of the night he supported the substantive resolution, after Eden Park won support as a backstop option if the waterfront site proved impossible, and the council passed an amendment from Citizens and Ratepayers Now councillor Doug Armstrong that the stadium be located "substantially eastwards".
Mayor Dick Hubbard, who described the decision as history-making, said there was 250m between the two sites and Britomart precinct developer Bluewater had indicated it would accept a stadium centred on Marsden Wharf as a compromise.
Councillor Richard Northey said the Government had given Auckland a choice between "two good, workable and exciting" options and he described a waterfront stadium as a "visionary leap."
City finance chair Vern Walsh said arguments for other venues were pointless as the Government was offering to pay for the waterfront stadium with no direct contributions from ratepayers apart from associated infrastructure such as turning Quay St into a pedestrian-dominated boulevard.
But Faye Storer warned that Sport Minister Trevor Mallard had said the Government would make it possible for rates to be raised through the Auckland region, on top of visitor bed and airport taxes.
Just before the vote, Mr Hubbard said some of the world's greatest buildings were created "out of the cauldron of controversy" including Paris' Eiffel Tower and Sydney's Opera House. "We cannot miss this opportunity, the debate is about the future shape, nature and style of Auckland City."
After the vote opponents of the waterfront site were visibly upset.
"This is an appalling decision," said councillor Christine Caughey.
She had earlier said the Government was "holding a gun to our heads" and the stadium would be three times the size of the largest downtown office block.
"Imagine that on the edge of our harbour - Auckland will be like a Noddy town, dwarfed by this monstrosity."
Councillor Richard Simpson said the waterfront option was not a bold vision but a "stupid decision". He said video promotions of the stadium used by Mr Mallard had all been filmed at night-time. "Visualise it during the day and it will look like a big wart."
Ms Storer said: "What I hated was the way everyone sucked up to Mallard when he came to town. He was short on figures but hell of a big on rhetoric."
Councillor Penny Sefuiva called the stadium "absurd and jellyfish-like" and Dr Cathy Casey said it would be a "black hole" of debt for generations to come.By Mathew Dearnaley, Anne Beston