New Zealand's biggest metropolis stands at a juncture. Do Auckland residents wish to compete with the likes of Las Vegas and Macau for the glitzy yet dubious title of Sin City? Or do they wish to play to the city's strengths, its bountiful green hills and stunning volcanic cones, its sparkling harbours and the warm, laidback hospitality of its people?
This decisive opportunity is presented by the drafting of Auckland's unitary plan, and this critical moment at which the city decides whether to take to its heart a stark, harshly-lit 24/7 gambling, alcohol and prostitution precinct.
Sex industry moguls John and Michael Chow reveal in today's Herald on Sunday that they have pulled the pin on plans for a 15-floor super-brothel, across the road from the expanding SkyCity Casino. "The project had been dragging on for some time and sometimes you lose your mojo," John Chow says.
Almost perversely, the deciding factor for the Chow brothers was not neighbours' objections to the brothel, nor their fight with Auckland Council over the forced demolition of the damaged Palace Hotel, nor even the ensuing protracted litigation with their insurer, AIG.
No, what finally stopped them was an unseemly battle with fellow sex hustler Jacqui Le Prou of Calendar Girls, who tried unsuccessfully to stop them renewing a liquor licence for a smaller strip club and brothel on Karangahape Rd.
The Licensing Authority judgment this week describes a "bitter turf war" between the Chows and Le Prou in which neither side has behaved reputably.
John Chow, it says, is "a hard-nosed businessman with few scruples" whose Wellington strip club and brothel served patron Peter Black so much alcohol that he fell down a stormwater drain and died. Chow recently admitted a police charge of disorderly behaviour in a clash with a former employee.
On the other side, Le Prou's Wellington strip club has lost its liquor licence and been placed in receivership owing more than $1 million; the testimony of her husband James Samson, a convicted meth dealer, was described by the authority as "unsatisfactory".
The Chows reportedly own 70 per cent of Wellington's sex industry; Le Prou is the biggest player in Christchurch's trade. But their battle for control of Auckland has, it seems, exhausted them all. Coinciding with the Chows' revelation they are backing out of their super-brothel plans, it emerges that Le Prou's Auckland premises on K Rd are being sold from under her.
If Le Prou and the Chows are forced to retrench, many Aucklanders will say good riddance to bad rubbish. But they would be wrong to assume that means an end to their plans for a sex, booze and gambling precinct. Auckland Council commissioners have already granted resource consent for the super-brothel, notably unopposed by SkyCity. John Chow indicates he may just sell the property to another operator.
As early as next month, Parliament will consider a bill allowing Auckland Council to regulate where street prostitutes can solicit for business.
And in May, the council is to respond to unitary plan submissions opposing the classification of brothels and strip clubs as "entertainment facilities", permitted everywhere, from the city centre to neighbourhood shops.
This is the time and the opportunity to decide the public image the city presents to the world. Will the new Auckland be fresh-faced and beautiful? Or will it sell itself as the painted harlot of the Pacific?