Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Waterfront can shine without Cup

High-end residential redevelopment of Sydney's harbourside is setting an example for Auckland to follow.

The reborn Shed 10 building has scored well as party central. Photo / Greg Bowker
The reborn Shed 10 building has scored well as party central. Photo / Greg Bowker

There's no doubt a new America's Cup regatta on the Waitemata Harbour would have triggered a fresh spurt of redevelopment around the inner harbour. It might have even attracted a welcome funding contribution from central government.

But it wasn't all gloom at Waterfront Auckland last week when Team New Zealand lost its marathon struggle to return the trophy to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's prize cabinet. Chairman Bob Harvey and his team were still fizzing over the promising news from the Sydney harbourside redevelopment at Barangaroo.

There, the first release of 159 yet-to-be-built apartments had been snapped up in just 3 hours, with sales totalling $338 million.

Top price, for a penthouse dubbed "The Cloud", was just under $12 million. Entry level one-bedroom apartments went for $1.13 million, with prices overall reaching up to $45,000 a square metre.

With Auckland's well-known housing shortage crisis, the Sydney results have encouraged Sir Bob "beyond belief" to test the local market.

Indeed, bids have already been received from developers, putting up their proposals for redeveloping the Wynyard Quarter residential areas, and the successful tenderers should be known by the end of October. Also due to go before the waterfront board around the same time is a Queen's Wharf Masterplan.

Last week, the weather gods almost blew the controversial "Cloud" right off the wharf. Unfortunately they didn't blow hard enough, which means the problem of what to do with this temporary Rugby World Cup relic is now up to the Masterplan, the board and ultimately the new Auckland mayor.

Back in 2011, in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, Sir Bob did offer to ship the Cloud to the munted South Island city, once it had completed its duties as the World Cup "party central".

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker called it an "amazing gesture", but since then the offer seems to have died a death from both sides. And now the Cloud has a tear in its outer skin as a result of last week's storms, its "as is, where is" condition must lessen its appeal, even as a gift.

Sir Bob refuses to share his views on the Cloud's future now, waiting instead for the Masterplan.

To someone who wants it gone, it's encouraging that the Waterfront Plan 2012 is less coy, making no bones about its fate. It states: "There will be increased public use of the western side of the wharf once the Cloud is removed."

This plan says Queen's Wharf was purchased jointly by the Government and the former Auckland Regional Council to deliver three initiatives: a high-quality cruise terminal, a major event space and "an impressive public open space reflecting the culture and heritage of Auckland and New Zealand".

The reborn Shed 10 building, which was unveiled to Aucklanders over the past weekend, has already scored well as party central for the recent America's Cup screenings, and ticks off both the cruise ship terminal and event space requirements.

As a heritage building, it also helps cover the third requirement. What is missing is the "impressive open space" where "the public can enjoy access to the waterfront, either through passive activity (walking and fishing) or through organised events, as well as providing a venue for major events and functions."

Missing from the actual plan, but suggested in the earlier consultation document, was a suggestion dear to the heart of Sir Bob, Conqueror of the Dardanelles and veteran lifesaver: a saltwater bathhouse at the tip of the wharf.

The consultation summary says the baths got a small and mixed response.

If what is proposed is a simple shark cage-like arrangement, separating swimmers from propellers and sharp teeth, and able to stop the unwary sinking to the muddy bottom or being dragged away by the currents, it seems to me an admirable alternative to endless bars and restaurants and souvenir shops. If it forces Watercare to stop toxic street run-off into the harbour, then so much the better.

A home will also have to be found for the $1 million Michael Parekowhai sculpture - apparently a giant chandelier hanging inside a glass lighthouse, plus one or more other artworks. There's also a desire to move the 1915 war memorial beacon to employees of the old Auckland Harbour Board, currently resting near Princes Wharf, after earlier moves on to Queen's Wharf to mark the port worker soldiers' embarkation point off to war.

All of which is by way of saying the transformation of the downtown waterfront continues apace, America's Cup or not.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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