The prime minister in power when the convention centre was agreed to says the fire is "a tragic event for everyone involved" but expressed confidence in SkyCity and Fletcher Building's abilities to recover.
Sir John Key said he was at an Air New Zealand board meeting yesterday not far from the centre "and we could see the flames and now I'm actually at ANZ. The smoke is really thick coming up Hobson St and the smell is very strong."
He defended the convention project from those who criticised SkyCity getting its exclusive licence extended 35 years and being able to install more gaming machines in return for developing the centre.
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"Despite the fact that there were people who were detractors of the process, I remain firmly of the view that New Zealand and Auckland needs a world-class convention centre and it's clear from the bookings how much of a magnet it was.
"It was and remains a key piece of infrastructure for tourism. But I think that the project can either be rebuilt or they regroup and continue the development," Key said.
He cited the centre's planned role in Apec as the main event venue "and what a fantastic piece of infrastructure it was to showcase New Zealand to the 21 leaders of the Asia Pacific region and it would have been great, with leaders from the United States, China, Russia and Japan coming for that."
Asked about the possibility of a force majeure being in the contract which might allow SkyCity to escape completing the centre due to the disaster, Key said that level of detail was handled by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and [former Economic Development Minister] Stephen Joyce's office.
"But there's bound to be a clause in the contract."
However, the rationale behind the centre's creation was "obviously sound and I remain firmly of the view that if either local or central government can avoid funding the convention centre, then that's the best outcome and SkyCity has offered an integrated solution," he said referring to tourism including hotel rooms, bars, restaurants and attractions.
"Auckland ratepayers and New Zealand taxpayers don't want to be paying for that. It was not like it would be a white elephant," Key said, referring to the Apec booking and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions in August 2022, requiring 15,000 room nights and bringing in up to $8m and announced at Friday's SkyCity AGM in Auckland.
Key praised the Sydney Convention Centre which he visited recently "and it's enormous and full."
Asked if the convention centre fire damaged New Zealand's reputation, Key said: "I don't think that. People understand you get these unexpected events. What worries international visitors are acts of nature like earthquakes but fires are tragic but they can and do happen and people understand."
SkyCity and Fletcher "will recover, both are professional operators and will have, I'm sure, an appropriate level of cover."
Key recalled Apec Russia 2012 on Russky Island, later turned into an educational institution, as well as Apec China 2014 held in Yanqi Lake, Huairou District, Beijing.
Alternative venues to the convention centre could be found in Auckland, he said.
Steven Joyce, the former minister for economic development who turned the first sod on construction of the NZICC, said he felt the pain of everyone working on the site.
"Firstly, the most important thing is that everyone working on the complex is safe," he said.
"And then obviously it's massively disappointing for everyone who has been working on it.
"I had a look around quite recently and thought it was coming together very well. So it will be very upsetting for them to have this major setback to what I think is going to be an amazing facility for Auckland and for the country," Joyce said.
"I'm sure they will get it back on its feet again but obviously from the outside there's going to be a lot of work to do.
"It's hugely important that it gets up and going again because what's quite clear is the predicted demand is definitely there. They've had some delays in construction and had to put off some events and New Zealand needs a facility where we can deliver the sort of numbers that the convention centre will deliver.
"So it's hugely important for the tourism industry, the convention sector, the Auckland and the wider New Zealand economy that we have that sort of facility."