Paul Lewis on sport
Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Party Central a limp legacy

The Queens Wharf project has been dismally handled since PM John Key coined the 'party central' phrase and allied it to a cruise ship terminal for $100m. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Queens Wharf project has been dismally handled since PM John Key coined the 'party central' phrase and allied it to a cruise ship terminal for $100m. Photo / Brett Phibbs

With apologies to Martin Luther King, I have a dream.

Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully and Auckland Regional Council head Mike Lee are in a large building on Queens Wharf.

It is a giant tent which covers and links two sheds. The two men are inside, standing around a big punch bowl, surrounded by bunting and other jolly party stuff. They are alone. The wind is blowing.

Down the road, at the Viaduct, the party is in full swing after the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. People are hanging off the walls, dancing in the streets, sloshing their drinks. They are having great fun.

Back at the giant tent (all right, I know it's not really going to be a tent but the image was too good not to dream about), McCully shifts uncomfortably. A napkin is blown across the empty floor space, like a dead weed across the tundra.

"Do you think anyone will come?" he asks Lee, fingering his platinum blue tie and trying to stop the shrill lament in his head: "30 million bucks, 30 million bucks ..."

Lee knows a politically loaded question when he hears one. "The Queen Vic tunnel's going well," he offers hopefully. McCully resists the urge to take off his Rotary badge and stab Lee in the eye with it. He whirls around as he hears someone enter. Hope wells up like BP's oil in the Gulf of Mexico - but it's only Trevor Mallard.

"Have I got the wrong day?" Mallard smirks as he crosses the empty floor. "Looks like the response to an invitation to a Young Nats meeting to discuss support for widening the dole to include paedophiles."

"You know, Trevor, I always thought you were a hit cabinet minister," says McCully. Mallard preens. "One consonant short," McCully sniffs, "but still ...".

Mallard's face darkens. "If they'd built my waterfront stadium, all this [the sweep of his arm took in the emptiness of Party Central] could have been avoided. Instead, what have we got? A pup tent and two sheds about as attractive as a nose full of cockroaches."

"Your Trevor Mallard Memorial Stadium would have cost $500 million and probably closer to a billion," barks McCully. "The country couldn't afford it."

"Well, at least the country would have turned up," says Mallard. "What's this place? Leprosy Central?" He grins at McCully's discomfiture as he turns to leave. "Well," he grins, "I admire your balls."

"Maybe later," says McCully, his smile as thin as Karen Carpenter.

* * *

What is it about Auckland and our national governments (the capital N is optional ... ) that makes us so pathetically unable to do these things right? I suspect the answer is leadership.

The Queens Wharf project has been dismally handled since Prime Minister John Key coined the 'party central' phrase and allied it to a cruise ship terminal for $100m. Great idea. But he wanted Auckland to pay. Oh.

So the region's mayors got together and, in a huge blaze of publicity, agreed to do ... nothing. Well, some conceptual drawings turned up. They were almost uniformly unimpressive. Party Central? Boring Central.

Auckland shrugged and got on with more important things, like whingeing about the traffic - the greatest legacy successive governments have left us.

Then it came out that we were thinking of a $30m temporary structure on Queens Wharf. Why? Because, apparently, we need to live the experience first - we can't possibly know what we want until we've got it and then we can change it. Get it? No, I didn't either.

One wise, old city father took refuge in metaphors. Would you do up a house, he intoned, before you'd lived in it for a while? Yes, I bloody would.

Do we think the civic leaders of Bilbao in Spain erected a tent first before they built the wonder that is the Guggenheim Museum there? Oh, I know, Jose, let's not bother with that world famous Frank Gehry architect bloke - let's save two of the ugliest sheds in the world and stick up a temporary hacienda instead.

Did the French decide to knock up a lean-to before building the Pompidou Centre? Go to Paris (if you haven't already) and look at the living, breathing, flow this astonishing building injects.

It is Paris's energy and creativity right there. Over the Tasman, we have the Sydney Opera House - not just a landmark; it's used daily.

So what's our solution? The Queens Wharf sheds. We spend $30 million on something - we don't quite know what yet - temporary. Then we can change it later if we don't like it.

Honestly, we Aucklanders have the collective imagination and impetus of a brick. In the country's leading daily newspaper, under the heading "Ugly wharf sheds worth a second look", a columnist said recently it made sense to keep them...

Astute readers may have noticed that this column took a short break just then. I had to go outside and shout at the cat and the neighbour's children. I feel better.

It is the curse of Auckland. We have few leaders worth a damn and we are too unimaginative and hidebound to achieve anything, so we settle back into the comforting warmth of our own inertia; a little like peeing while you're in the bath.

Let's put our faith in the Viaduct, Ponsonby, Parnell, Kingsland and the likes for the World Cup and encourage parties there.

If we have to spend $30 million, let's provide venues and free transport to such places, not try to park people in sheds with the same aesthetic appeal as a long drop and say: "Let's all have spontaneous fun at 6pm."

The waterfront stadium was always a non-sequitur - a structure that looks in, rather than out at the sea. Dear God.

Let's build something lasting and useful on Queens Wharf; something that defines our city; used every day; bringing life, flow and colour to the waterfront.

It doesn't have to be the vast expense of a Guggenheim or a Pompidou centre.

Look at the Shaw Centre in Baton Rouge or the Kulturhuset in Stockholm. Imagine them with even more evocative, artistic architecture. They have theatres, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, bars, exhibition halls, event centres, libraries - people go there all the time. It could be linked to or even double as a cruise ship terminal.

But this is Auckland. We'll probably be arguing about the bleeding sheds in 20 years.

Bugger it, I'm off to sit in the traffic.

- Herald on Sunday

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