The Auckland Council is in talks to privatise a section of Queen Elizabeth Square as part of a $300 million redevelopment by Precinct Properties of the Downtown Shopping Centre, say sources.
They say the council is looking at a deal with Precinct Properties for public space outside the Downtown Shopping Centre where a stand of kauri and a basalt fire rock occupy a shaded and windswept part of the square.
A three-storey podium could be built over the area in exchange for a public laneway being included in the development. The deal could include a financial payment from Precinct to the cash-strapped council.
The possible sale of public space at QEII Square follows news yesterday that the council is considering two large commercial buildings on Queens Wharf in exchange for upgrading the downtown ferry terminal.
The future of the downtown area, including Queens Wharf, the ferry basin, Quay St, buses at Britomart and Precinct's redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre, is being co-ordinated by the council's city centre integration group.
Group general manager Rick Walden said a framework for the downtown area was two or three months away from public inspection.
The work is creating friction behind the scenes between different council bodies with different agendas in an environment of belt-tightening and pressure from Mayor Len Brown to find new revenue sources.
"We only have one waterfront and we only have it once and it shouldn't be used as a cash cow to fund other activities," a source said.
Feedback to the Herald slightly favoured the $55 million commercial buildings proposal by the Cayman Islands registered company - the Ferry Project Group - which owns the Ferry Building.
The dozens of responses in favour commented on the look of the three-storey buildings, the rundown state of ferry terminal and ratepayers not having to foot the bill of a new terminal.
Opponents were aghast at the sale of prime waterfront space to private and anonymous backers for commercial use and carparks.
Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said he did want to say no when the private sector put its hand up for public good, but the bar for Queens Wharf was very high.
Planner and former Auckland regional councillor Joel Cayford said there were similarities with the Queens Wharf proposal and Princes Wharf, where public access has played second fiddle to commercial development.
He said the best waterfront developments - Wynyard Quarter, Viaduct Basin and Britomart - had been the subject of robust plan changes with public input.
Last night, the council said a report on the proposed redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre was going to next week's Auckland development committee.
Precinct Properties chief executive Scott Pritchard said he could not comment but looked forward to sharing some aspirational ideas for Auckland at the right time.
Rinehart rumours rejected
Rumours that Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest person, is behind plans to build commercial buildings on Queens Wharf, have been rejected by the Auckland businessman fronting the plan and the mining company she chairs, Hancock Prospecting.
Numerous sources told the Herald that Ms Rinehart is behind Queens Ferry Ltd, the Cayman Islands-registered company which owns the Ferry Building.
However, Sir Noel Robinson, who is fronting the Queens Wharf plan, said although some "very wealthy individuals" from Australia were involved Ms Rinehart was not among them.