Alex Swney: Cup legacy needs to be more than another parking lot on waterfront

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Aucklanders have sent a clear message - "just give us a sensible way forward for the Rugby World Cup, the cruise industry, and Queens Wharf."

Good on them. The mayors of Auckland have voted unanimously not to support rushing the permanent development of Queens Wharf for the Rugby World Cup. They are in tune with most Aucklanders, and it was good leadership to make that clear last week.

A survey conducted by an independent online research company for Heart of the City showed on average 80 per cent of Aucklanders were dead against spending $97 million on a huge new cruise terminal and multi-function centre - Option 4.

Of respondents with an opinion 78.6 per cent said don't rush permanent development of Queens Wharf for the Rugby World Cup.

And 84.4 per cent want to see permanent development led by the new mayor and councillors with a broader plan.

A total of 88.2 per cent want to see agreed plans for other central wharves and Quay St first. And as the mayors became aware, Auckland City is building a $29 million Marine Events Centre, with multifunction capability on Halsey St Wharf and in time for the Rugby World Cup.

There was no justification for building two boxes with similar architectural characteristics on two wharves by 2011.

Nor is there much merit in Option 1, bowling the two sheds. That will leave a vast empty tarmac, just like we have on neighbouring Captain Cook Wharf.

Surely the legacy of the Rugby World Cup needs to be more than another parking lot on our waterfront. The Government can do much better than order the wrecking ball in.

The way forward rests with option 2 or 3, but with acknowledgement we must make improvements for the 2012 cruise season which starts soon after the Cup finishes. In that season 100 cruise liners and more than 200,000 passengers are on their way.

Our proposal includes:

* Improvements to the structure of the wharf, and provision of standard services.

* Refurbishment of both floors of Shed 10. Embarrassingly, that shed is already used for international cruise passengers. People would be amazed at its dreadful condition. But improvements for Rugby World Cup would not be wasted if they also improved facilities for the cruise industry, if only on an interim basis.

The top floor could be used as the customs area when ships are in port, and relatively inexpensive canopies (common in other international terminals) added to the building for weather protection as passengers transfer to buses and taxis.

Shed 10 could become the centrepiece of further staged developments as the Super City leaders and Government see fit.

Downtown airport check-in terminals and other tourism infrastructure have been talked about and remain clear possibilities.

Less money could be spent on the northern Shed 11, to be used for party central and with screens inside. This was done with great success at Valencia for the America's Cup.

Other uses have been mooted for this shed after the event, and we should allow time for those to be explored. If no great idea comes along the northern end of the wharf could be the site for a new building.

For the Rugby World Cup, the minimum need be spent on other permanent features on the wharf to deliver a great party in a safe environment.

And it will give Aucklanders an opportunity to get on to the wharf, get to know it, and share experiences during the celebrations.

We all have great ambitions for a broad and vibrant CBD waterfront, informed by good urban design and with a transformed economy with a tourism focus. Perhaps the best way of starting that journey is to make sure we don't botch up Queen's Wharf permanently by rushing in in the first place.

If you look past the disrepair in the sheds there are character components, including huge steel trusses that were originally shipped from Britain and massive beamed ceilings and floors.

The sheds will provide a much more memorable experience than marquees.

And party central on Queens Wharf is as much for New Zealanders as it is for our international visitors.

As the waterfront opens up there's an opportunity for different spaces to provide new experiences, and the approach that will deliver a better result on Queens Wharf will be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

The Government and the ARC have each put up $20 million for the purchase. Auckland City has more than double that sum budgeted for a contribution to Queens Wharf and economic infrastructure. Their contribution would be helpful. It would give the city some skin in Queens Wharf, complementing the ARC and Government contributions.

It's time to stop scrapping over Queens Wharf like it was a bone. What we are suggesting will allow Auckland to proceed with party central plans for the Rugby World Cup, provide immediate improvements for the cruise industry, and allow the new Auckland Council and Government to develop cohesive plans for the central CBD wharves which are in sync with Aucklanders' views.

Alex Swney is chief executive of Heart of the City.

- NZ Herald

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