Mike Lee and Michael Barnett: Queen's Wharf is a golden opportunity

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The days of used Japanese cars and boxes of ripening bananas occupying Auckland's prime waterfront location are numbered.

We have been turning our attention to the future of Queen's Wharf as a major gateway.

If there was one positive thing to come out of Auckland's 2006 stadium debate, it focused a million Auckland minds - and a few from Wellington - on the importance of our waterfront to the region's future.

Aucklanders demonstrated a previously latent fervour for opening up their waterfront. The Government showed an almost equal desperation to open up its chequebook in the interests of sprucing up Auckland's harbourside and helping to make Auckland an internationally competitive city.

Plenty has happened since with developments under way from the tiny Teal Park in the east to Harbour Bridge Park in the west and most places in between.

Wynyard Quarter will be the showpiece of this development - the size of a whole new suburb, with a diverse range of waterside offerings including a spectacular headland park.

The Tank Farm area will play a huge part in delivering the vision of the Auckland waterfront as "a world-class destination that excites the senses and celebrates our sea-loving maritime history and Pacific culture".

But a potential jewel in the waterfront crown has always been Queen's Wharf.

Now with Ports of Auckland looking to future utilisation of new technology and its business plan increasingly certain to be based around optimising its use of other areas, it is likely to move its cargo operations off Queen's Wharf sooner rather than later.

So where to for Queen's Wharf? A key factor in how the wharf is developed may well be the burgeoning cruise ship industry, which offloads tens of thousands of potentially big spenders on Auckland's waterfront every year. And it's growing fast.

The cruise industry's impact on Auckland demands attention. Auckland is no longer just a freight port. The recent worldwide resurgence in the cruise industry is expected to continue and grow to more than 17 million passengers by 2010.

Its growth is outstripping that of most other tourism sectors. The New Zealand picture reflects this, with our industry growing from 27 cruises (19,400) passengers in 1996-97 to 69 cruises (65,400 passengers) in 2006-07. The forecast for 2007-08 is for 92 cruises (101,945 passengers).

Of these, Auckland will receive a record 73 cruise ship visits during the 2007-08 season, up 58 per cent on the previous year's 46 visits. In addition, the majority of cruises either begin or end in Auckland, so we are in the ideal position to capitalise on the pre- and post-cruise activities of passengers and crew. ( Some 38,000 cruise ship crew are expected in New Zealand in 2007-08.)

This is great news and should act as a catalyst for the development of Queen's Wharf. But the opportunity is far greater than simply providing the harbourfront equivalent of Auckland Airport for seafaring tourists.

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.

Importantly, it would be an extension of Auckland's transport hub, linking Aucklanders and visitors to the rest of the region through the adjacent ferry services and the train and bus services at nearby Britomart.

There is no doubt that the future of Queen's Wharf can be as a spectacular gateway to the CBD, the wider Auckland region and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Both the Government and the Auckland Regional Council are focused on the transformation of Auckland into a world-class destination and both are involved in key projects to make this happen.

The recently released "Bringing the World to Auckland: the case for investment in the Auckland visitor economy" was developed by AucklandPlus (the ARC's economic development agency) with input from the Government and others.

It highlighted the potential for Auckland to generate an additional $12 billion in direct visitor expenditure over 10 years from an investment of $1.65 billion. (The Government would also benefit to the tune of $1.8 billion in additional tax take.)

In part, this relies on Auckland's ability to develop signature attractions and experiences at waterfront sites including Queen's Wharf. This would in turn deliver much improved amenities for Aucklanders in the way that the Viaduct Harbour has in the wake of the America's Cup regattas.

The Government's willingness to invest in Auckland's waterfront has been reiterated this year. There is no better target for this investment than Queen's Wharf and that's a message we will be delivering to Wellington loud and clear over the coming months.

In 2006, we told the Government in no uncertain terms what we didn't want in 2006. Now we have the opportunity to tell them what we do want and secure an investment with a return that will benefit all Aucklanders.

* Mike Lee and Michael Barnett are the Auckland Regional Council chairman and deputy chairman respectively.

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