Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

SkyCity centre's bid to rival big Oz cities

Project will stimulate other developments, says Government.

An artist's impression of the convention centre, which will take three years to build and will provide 1000 construction jobs, says SkyCity.
An artist's impression of the convention centre, which will take three years to build and will provide 1000 construction jobs, says SkyCity.

SkyCity's international convention centre is being tipped as the catalyst for a surge of development in downtown Auckland that will position the city to compete against Sydney or Melbourne for big spending business visitors.

Under a deal that was hatched three years ago by Prime Minister John Key and SkyCity executives and finally signed off on Friday, the casino company will build and operate the $402 million 3500-place convention centre.

In return it gets 230 extra pokie machines and other gambling law concessions worth $500 million.

The Government estimates the deal is worth about $90 million a year to the economy of Auckland, the city that "represents New Zealand on the international stage and competes with the likes of Sydney and Melbourne for visitors", Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce told the Herald yesterday.

The centre was an important piece of infrastructure to attract high-value visitors and was "pretty crucial both from Auckland and the country's perspective".

Mr Joyce has long touted the economic benefits that hosting large international conventions would bring and also the short- to medium-term jobs boost provided by its construction.

However, he also said it would fire up other projects nearby.

"You will see more development occurring around the convention centre location."

Mr Joyce said the centre and casino complex was tipped to act as "a link between the city and down towards the Victoria quarter as well".

"There's been quite a bit of talk about how to make that part of the city, effectively between Hobson St and down to the Victoria quarter, more friendly to people and it will probably take something like a convention to provide that link."

Developers waiting for the deal to be finalised would "obviously be interested in how they can leverage land around the complex to actually get more hotel beds in the vicinity".

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development chief executive Brett O'Riley said the centre, combined with the City Rail Link, "will really stimulate quite a transformation of the central city".

The extra visitors the centre will attract would stimulate demand for other tourist attractions.

"We already know of several projects that have been on hold pending the final announcement of the convention centre. Suddenly if you're a museum, theme park or an art gallery, the prospect of those sorts of visitors can change the game."

Through a spokesman, Auckland Mayor Len Brown last night said he welcomed the "significant opportunities that a national convention centre will bring to Auckland both in terms of jobs and wider economic growth".

SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison said the centre would be one of the biggest construction projects in the Auckland region, "and will be a major boost for the construction sector during the estimated three-year construction period" requiring 1000 jobs during construction.

When fully operational in 2017 and drawing more high-value events and tourists to the city, "it will result in SkyCity employing an additional 800 workers, on top of the 3500 we already employ in Auckland".

The Government will introduce the necessary amendments to the Gambling Act to Parliament this week when it will release documents relating to the deal including information about the social cost of the gambling concessions and a 35-licence extension.

- NZ Herald

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