SkyCity chief executive Graeme Stephens looks down at the blackened upper levels of the NZ International Convention Centre and recalls one of his biggest fears during last year's devastating fire.
What if the big white and orange TC1 Smith Crane & Construction tower crane on the Hobson St side of the site toppled over?
"The fear we had was that it could fall," Stephens confesses gazing down to the fire-ravaged NZICC.
Collapsing either into the convention centre or across the street and on to the existing hotel and casino headquarters would have been even more disastrous.
Showing off the company's upgraded VIP areas recently, Stephens recalls the extent of his concern about the 120m tall super-structure, as up to 150 firefighters battled the blaze that started on October 22 and took 10 days to fully extinguish.
From the upper level of SkyCity's building between Federal St and Hobson St, he told how the crane posed a major potential threat to existing company operations, assets and property.
Reflecting on the fire a year on, the philosophical boss expressed satisfaction with progress, still in a demolition phase, Fletcher Construction removing materials including secondary steel from the roof, while the primary steel remains in situ.
Materials from levels five to seven are being stripped out for repairs.
Tim Smith, managing director of Christchurch-headquartered Smith Cranes, said he was well aware of fears for the 120m TC1 too "but the fire brigade managed to keep it cool so she was all good".
Smith - brother of MP Nick Smith - said he knew of no other site where a tower crane had collapsed from fire "but there was a fire in a cab in a yard in Invercargill a few years ago and there have been overseas experiences of this". The business had four tower cranes on the NZICC site at the height of construction "and it's been a big job for us".
As the country's biggest building repair, the convention centre building work is now in full swing after a fire caused $336 million-plus of damage.
Shareholders breathed a sigh of relief when the company said that "reinstatement costs currently estimated to be at least $336m excluding clean-up costs, are expected to be fully covered by insurance."
Stephens also told exactly how the Horizon Hotel had suffered: its services were all fed from or linked to the NZICC, meaning all those supplies were critically damaged by the fire.
It wasn't smoke damage which impacted that new six-star hotel, Stephens stressed. Repairs to that glass-clad hotel are now due to be completed by late 2021 and to the centre by mid-2023, the company has announced.
The first conventions could be running by 2024 if current work remains on track.
Chris Haines, a director of consultants Rider Levett Bucknall, which publishes quarterly fixed tower and crawler crane surveys, has no doubts the centre will be a vital national asset when completed.
"If you want to have a world-class city, Auckland needs a world-class convention centre. If you're saying there [should be] no convention centre, you're saying there's no tourism. You need to look two, five, 10 years out," he said.
Even though Covid might rule out in the shorter-term mass conventions of 2000 to 3000 people which the centre is designed for "there's no white elephant about it". He compared the centre to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, saying it had its detractors when it was opened in 1959.
Doubters and detractors are soon silent and forgotten once major assets like a bridge or convention centre are opened and being used, Haines said.
The $336m+ repair job was also a boost to the pandemic-hit construction sector "and all the sub-trades, suppliers, small and medium-sized businesses. We don't have that many of these big vertical building projects in the pipeline", he said.
Fletcher Construction's new programme of works has specific dates and estimates. In May, the builder released initial photos of internal work. Photos taken in December showed the impact from the fire on the vast plenary or theatre area, which is scattered with debris from the damaged roof.
But more cheerfully, photos from May this year showed progress in the ongoing clean-up, including removing of fire-damaged materials from the roof and partition walls, as well as plant and equipment that had remained after the fire.
The plenary or theatre is one of the larger areas in the convention centre, designed to take more than 2000 people at once.
SkyCity has bought itself breathing space for completion dates.
The Government granted it a two-year "long-stop" date extension to the original 2023 centre completion date, enshrined in legislation which granted concessions, extending its exclusive casino licence out to 2048 and allowing more machines to be installed in return for the building.
January 2, 2025 is now the new date struck between the company and the Crown for centre completion.
Anna Hayward, Auckland Convention Bureau head, said: "Absolutely we need the NZICC in this Covid era, not just for Auckland but nationally. It will play an important role in advancing economic and social priorities. It attracts knowledge into the country when we hold events and gives us the opportunity to extract new investment and strengthen global networks. Conventions work on a very long lead time but the NZICC will support Auckland's recovery from Covid in the longer term. We work three to five years out."
The bureau had secured events through till 2028, she said, some of which are planned for the NZICC.
The fire was declared accidental. Fire and Emergency said its "probable cause is believed to be an inadvertent ignition of the cardboard centre of a roll of waterproofing membrane. The cardboard centre of the roll smouldered for a period of up to 38 minutes before reaching flaming combustion and providing sufficient heat to ignite to a self-sustaining fire involving the roll of membrane from which the building fire developed".
And it is good news on the insurance front.
The company has already banked $105m as the first tranch of insurance proceeds for repairs. Instead of it being a $703m project, SkyCity now says it is a $750m project.
The 600 centre car parks damaged by fire will be returned to use during the second half of 2021, SkyCity estimates. And all the vehicles which went to a watery grave beneath the centre were removed some months ago.
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