Waterfront plan to transform Auckland

By Wayne Thompson

Click on the View Photos link below the photo to view a Herald graphic demonstrating the plans for the waterfront development.

Auckland's waterfront could be opened for public access if a plan to turn Queens Wharf into a gateway to the city goes ahead.

The wharf at the bottom of Queen St is used for stacking used Japanese cars and boxes of ripening bananas - to the disappointment of critics who believe it should be a public space.

Now Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee and deputy Michael Barnett want to convert it into a cruise ship terminal, with public features such as markets and exhibitions.

The ARC could make the change as it owns Ports of Auckland through its investment arm Auckland Regional Holdings. However, it says it will require financial help from the Government first.

The proposal comes less than two years after the Government proposed a $500 million World Cup rugby stadium on neighbouring Captain Cook and Marsden Wharves. Although the idea was rejected, Mr Lee and Mr Barnett say the high level of public interest showed that Aucklanders wanted their waterfront opened.

The idea also has strong support from Auckland Mayor John Banks, who agrees the wharf should remain in public ownership.

"It's a magnificent piece of gilt-edged real estate and I don't want to see it flogged off to private developers."

However, Mr Banks wants his council to own the wharf. He said he had resumed city council negotiations to buy Queens and Captain Cook wharves that he had started during his first term as mayor in 2001-2004.

Writing in today's Herald, the two ARC leaders say the port company's business plan is based around greater use of its wharves further east from the central city ones, and it is likely to move its cargo operations off Queens Wharf "sooner rather than later".

They say the 3ha wharf's new life could be as a harbourfront equivalent of Auckland International Airport, especially as a record 73 cruise ship visits are expected in Auckland in the 2007-08 year, compared with 46 last season.

Tens of thousands of potentially big spenders will come to Auckland to either start or end their cruises.

"The location presents a unique opportunity to provide an accessible area where visitors and Aucklanders can interact.

"It should include a signature exhibition space and range of amenities to attract visitors and Aucklanders alike, showcasing the region's heritage and telling our stories."

Handy to the Britomart Transport Centre, it would be spectacular gateway to the CBD and Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

The ARC leaders believe, however, that the project needs Government investment - something it was prepared to do for the waterfront stadium plan in 2006.

"The Government showed an almost equal desperation to open up its chequebook in the interests of sprucing up the waterfront and making Auckland an internationally competitive city," Mr Lee and Mr Barnett said.

"There is no better target for this investment than Queens Wharf and that's a message we will be delivering to Wellington loud and clear over the upcoming weeks and months."

Mr Barnett chairs the council's economic development agency AucklandPlus.

The agency's case for investment in the Auckland visitor economy highlights the potential for Auckland to generate an additional $12 billion in direct visitor spending over a decade from an investment of $1.65 billion.

The Government's benefit would be $1.8 billion in additional tax take.

Mr Lee said Ports of Auckland had a growing appreciation that it was not only the country's premier port for freight but also a major passenger port.

"In essence we need another cruise ship terminal and the ideal place is Queens Wharf."

The Herald understands a port company business case could not justify it spending millions on building a new terminal when most of the economic benefit of the cruise ships industry fell elsewhere. However, local and central government would benefit by the economic activity.

During the waterfront stadium debate, Auckland City Council tried to buy the wharf to open it for public access - a price tag of $60 million was mentioned - but the ARC said it was not for sale.

Mr Lee said yesterday the city council was one of many parties the ARC was talking with about furthering the idea of a terminal, which when not used by ships could have public uses such as a regular market and exhibition space.

But he said the wharf was needed for ships as core Ports of Auckland business rather than a quarter for sheepskin shops, cafes and bars.

The Waterfront Vision 2040 put out by the ARC, ports company and city council said ideas for Queens Wharf included "providing public access, public spaces, a continual link between Queen St and the waterfront, reconfiguring the wharf structure to create a new town basin, an iconic building, extending ferries, entertainment and a mix of activities."

Minister for Economic Development Pete Hodgson could not be reached for comment last night. In a December speech to AucklandPlus he said the Government's focus was on making Auckland a globally competitive city.

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