Party central, with a $100m hangover

By Bernard Orsman

Auckland City ratepayers will be asked to pay more than $100 million to turn Queens Wharf into "party central" for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday said the Government would help with the purchase of the wharf, leaving the council to develop a cruise ship terminal and public spaces on the 474m-long structure at the bottom of Queen St.

"This will be 'party central' - the focus of a mass public opening ceremony and the magnet for fans who can't be at games during the six-week tournament," Mr Key told a tourism conference in Auckland.

The PM and local body leaders in Auckland are confident of securing the wharf for development.

But if they can't, Ports of Auckland has agreed to lend the wharf for the period of the tournament.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney, a longtime champion of opening up the waterfront, said making Queens Wharf available for the World Cup was a tantalising prospect, but the challenge was to build something befitting its prominent location that New Zealanders and tourists would flock to long after the rugby tournament.

Auckland City Mayor John Banks said he was excited at the prospect of securing Queens Wharf, but it would cost more than $100 million to strengthen the 100-year-old structure and develop it into a cruise ship terminal and public open spaces.

The council had set aside $10 million for Queens Wharf and would have to borrow the rest.

"I need to put the proposition in front of the public and I need to get a buy-in and everyone needs to know where the costs are falling and how they are going to be funded," he said.

"If we can get some ticks around that, then we can push on."

The council has already committed $59 million to projects linked to the Rugby World Cup.

It is also planning to borrow about $270 million this year so it can hold its rate increase to 2 per cent.

Mr Banks said although Auckland City ratepayers would be taking on more debt to develop Queens Wharf, it would be transferred to the new Super City for all Aucklanders to pay.

Although Mr Key said the Government would not put any money into a cruise ship terminal, Mr Banks may seek a contribution on the basis that it will bring national benefits.

It is understood the Government will contribute $20 million towards buying the wharf, on top of its $190 million contribution towards the $240 million Eden Park upgrade.

Mr Key said the development of Auckland's waterfront was of national and international importance, and he urged Auckland leaders to unite to make it happen.

This was a pointed message to the Auckland Regional Council, its investment arm and the ports company to make Queens Wharf available for public use.

The regional council owns Ports of Auckland.

Regional council chairman Mike Lee said a deal could be done in days, but it might take weeks. The outstanding issues were price and logistics.

His council was contributing to the purchase of Queens Wharf, but he would not say how much it was giving.

"It's not impossible and the objective is tantalising. I think securing Queens Wharf for public open space and a premier cruise ship terminal would be a huge step forward for the Auckland region," Mr Lee said.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Jens Madsen said the company was a willing seller and alternative arrangements for customers now using the wharf would be made.

WHO PAYS WHAT

GOVERNMENT
* $190m to upgrade Eden Park.
* $20m towards purchase of Queens Wharf.

AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL
* $59m of committed projects.
* $10m set aside for Queens Wharf.
* $90m-plus extra for Queens Wharf (unbudgeted).

AUCKLAND REGIONAL COUNCIL
* $10m towards Eden Park upgrade.
* Queens Wharf purchase, cost unknown.

- NZ Herald

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