- Site: 1.4ha
- Floor space: 32,500sq m
- Equivalent to 4 rugby fields
- 33 meeting spaces of various sizes
- 5 times larger than existing NZ convention space
- Able to host events for up to 4000-plus people
- NZ's largest theatre, able to seat 2850 people
- NZICC designed by Warren and Mahoney, Woods Bagot, Moller Architects
- 303-room 12-level Horizon Hotel by Warren and Mahoney, Moller Architects
Who's it for, when will it be finished and what's it like inside? Anne Gibson went on the first tour of the $703 million NZ International Convention Centre to answer those questions, discovering it's not just the sheer scale of the building which surprises, but also the cordial relations between the owner and builder, given delays and losses in completing the project.
October next year is the tentative date for the first event at the behemoth where tiles are now being laid, kitchens installed, walls plastered and the structure is about to be made watertight.
The first look inside the project - between Wellesley St, Nelson St and Hobson St - reveals substantial completion across every floor. "Within two months' time, the whole place will be watertight," SkyCity Entertainment Group's spokesman said of the NZ International Convention Centre (NZICC) on Monday's tour.
The neighbouring Horizon Hotel is more advanced, its fit-out being completed from the bottom up.
Might SkyCity shareholders hold their November 2020 annual general meeting in the convention centre? "The first booking is from October 2020," the spokesman said.
On the first media tour of the convention centre are SkyCity chief executive Graeme Stephens, Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor, NZICC group development general manager Simon Jamieson, SkyCity Auckland hospitality executive general manager Callum Mallett, Fletcher Construction's NZICC construction director Gus Smith, its project director Karl Postlewaight and SkyCity communications manager Colin Espiner.
No pressure, then.
After kitting up in gear and undergoing a safety briefing, the party enters a Wellesley St worker portal. The building will have three main pedestrian entrance ways, on Hobson, Nelson and Wellesley streets. That means if three major meetings are running simultaneously, each event can have its own separate character, appearance, welcome, entrance and displays.
We climb wide internal stairs to the NZICC's top or fifth floor and walk to the Hobson St centre, to stand on a temporary construction platform that juts out to provide a view of artist Sara Hughes' forest-inspired glass panels, which will cover much of the building's exterior.
"We only broke one," confesses a group member, referring to the tricky job of lifting each panel into place.
From this vantage point we can see Summit Construction's signage above the existing SkyCity building, ready for the installation of a glass and steel airbridge - nicknamed Goliath - over Hobson St, from level one of SkyCity to the new Horizon Hotel's level four.
Fletcher's Postlewaight says Goliath will be installed in October this year.
A second and smaller airbridge, called Goldilocks, has been partially finished to link the NZICC to the Horizon Hotel.
A short walk to the NZICC's heart and we are standing in what will be New Zealand's largest theatre, also known as the plenary theatre. The theatre will feature retractable seating and be capable of taking 2850 people seated or 4000 standing, in a space which can be split in half to accommodate separate events.
Still on level five, now moving towards the west and its floor-to-ceiling glass, we're in the banqueting Rouako Room (the name refers to a woven food basket). Mallett says this area is capable of accommodating up to 800 people. "Golden flax-like operable wall panels will surround the pre-function west space," SkyCity says of its appearance. Diners will enjoy natural light from the north, and the glass forest fins feature strongly here with the room positioned so high up and close to the art.
Mallett says the Rouako banqueting room can also be split into two spaces, each accommodating 230 people sitting down.
Walking towards the north, we're above Nelson St, looking towards the Harbour Bridge, where ceilings are partly gibbed but scissor cranes are still working and two lines of orange cones denote the safe walkway.
"This is not a normal build. There's many different spaces," explains Postlewaight of what we're looking at. "Birdcage scaffolding enables us to put in all the mechanical services," he says about areas where access will remain necessary.
Now moving due north, we're above the public laneway that cuts through between Nelson and Hobson streets. It's an outdoor passage flanked to the north by the hotel, to the south by the NZICC.
We climb onto exterior scaffolding to see the first elements of Peata Larkin's 105m-long, 35m high terracotta artwork that will clad the wall above that laneway. A total 13,500 tiles in eight colours "describe the multiple waterways and fertile soil of Tamaki Makaurau (and Aotearoa) ... an undulating geometric pattern inspired by traditional Māori weaving, a subtle three-dimensional presence that would visually change, dependent on the angle it is viewed from," in the artist's words.
The NZICC's northern flank holds the Spine Gallery, which runs the centre's entire width of about 100m, with visibility between all floors. This is a circulation, gathering, travel and movement area. Escalators are already installed but under protective wraps. Jamieson refers to this gallery's central skylight: "It's unique for a convention centre to have so much natural light."
In what one of those on the tour calls a "big reveal moment", we are now standing at the bottom of a 35m-high internal void, the equivalent of about 10 storeys, looking from the ground floor up to the ceiling on level five.
"That void!" says Stephens. "I don't know of too many buildings where you can see nearly 40m from the ground floor up to the ceiling."
Off Nelson St is the "underground" area where buses, cars and trucks will be able to drive into the NZICC's bowels, all on an internal covered circular-style roadway: to the north, there is the Horizon's port cochere; to the south, truck loading bays and in another area, a secure dropping-off entry point for VIPs who can then take a private lift to the boardroom on level five.
Separate Nelson St exit and entrance ways are 15m apart.
Beneath us are a further 1327 new carparks, in addition to SkyCity's existing carparks.
From that cavernous vehicle entry/turning space, we enter what Jamieson terms the principal kitchen, where the fridges are as big as small houses.
Then we're through a facade and on what was a Nelson St footpath - now inaccessible while construction is going on - in front of the Heritage NZ-listed Berlei Building, built in 1931.
Fletcher's Smith explains how the building at 52 Nelson St has been seismically strengthened: "We ripped the existing floors out and then reinstated them with new ones but they're not tied to the facade. They're separate for earthquake reasons."
Concrete columns behind that facade give strength.
Jamieson notes the juxtaposition of the almost century-old Berlei Building and the new glass artworks, is "a nod to the past and future". The lack of the controversial and potentially flammable aluminium composite cladding, removed from designs before being applied to the NZICC, is also remarked on.
Mallet cites Safari Group's new Ramada Victoria Hotel and Suites nearby on the corner of Victoria St and Graham St, and expects another two or three hotels to rise near the NZICC because of the amount of business anticipated.
Back inside, a bathroom is tiled and shower heads are up and it's at this point that questions are asked about the seemingly good-natured relationship between SkyCity's Stephens and Fletcher's Taylor, who have often walked together during the nearly two-hour tour and spoken extensively.
Despite SkyCity withholding $39.5m in liquidated damages from Fletcher over late delivery of the NZICC, and Fletcher in turn disputing SkyCity's right to do that, both seem surprised to be asked if there is acrimony.
"What? Do you expect me to do this?" Taylor jokes as he comically grabs Stephens around the shoulders in an apparent throttling gesture.
Neither man signed the deal: Mark Adamson was Fletcher CEO and Nigel Morrison was SkyCity chief when the agreement was made in 2015.
Taylor last toured the project just four weeks ago and says he is regularly on-site.
"Four to five weeks ago, a lot of internal areas were not clad," he says, praising the work's progress.
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Asked about Fletcher's $410m losses announced on February 14, 2018 on this project alone, Taylor said: "Fletcher made a commitment to get this done and it's a journey."
While SkyCity says the completed project will be valued at $703m, Fletcher last February put the completion cost at $887m. Taylor says he will not update that figure and his company remains committed.
"It doesn't mean we don't want to build quality and for the future. We have a contract with Sky to build a convention centre here and you can see it take shape. It's very important we do honour this commitment. This is an important piece of infrastructure that will be here for many years.
"There's been a lot of noise and commentary but now you can see it take shape and you can feel the energy of the team, from Karl and Gus," Taylor says, referring to the Fletcher NZICC chiefs.
Now we're at the very heart of the centre: the grand exhibition hall, an 8400sq m space with a soaring 9.5m stud which can take 4000 people for dinner but potentially more than 5000 standing up.
"Probably call it 6000 people," says SkyCity's spokesman. "You could build an aeroplane in here, it's as big as an aircraft hangar."
Mallett points out that the hall has only four circular steel-cored concrete-clad pillars to support some of the building's heft above us, providing cavernous areas of unhindered space.
A spiderweb-like network of ceiling gantry rails allows walls to be pushed out to divide this gigantic hall into 12 separate spaces, each with their own services. Mallett describes the potential range of uses as "art exhibitions, car launches, cocktail parties, orchestral events ..."
Each acoustic wall piece weighs 1.2 tonnes, but as Mallett points out, one person can move them without help. With that, Fletcher's Smith enters one of the many wall housing or "garage" areas at the Spine Gallery end of the NZICC, grabs a panel 1.2m wide by 10m high and silently glides it out, around a corner ready to be moved onto the hall floor, pointing out how each door has a different finish or treatment, depending on exhibition hall floor placement.
Mallett then cites the potential to hold "sporting events, boxing matches, international conferences, comedy events, live theatre, concerts" in the grand hall.
Emerging onto Hobson St, Jamieson points out how trucks will be able to load large equipment directly into that exhibition hall: "Here, the loading bays are internal but overseas convention centres are surrounding by loading bays."
We enter the new elliptical-shaped Horizon Hotel from a swipe-card security turnstile for worker access from Hobson St, then take a lift to the uppermost level 12 to see suites there and on the level below that are as big as small houses - 64sq m, compared to the more standard 32sq m rooms lower down.
The hotel is all curves inside and out: curved glass curtain walls and a curved central atrium feature, with very few straight lines. Upper levels still host concrete mixers for tile grout but lower levels are far more advanced and some rooms already have complete bathroom fittings, carpet, headboards and desk, ready for furniture to arrive.
To the north are extensive harbour views over TVNZ's headquarters. Views to the south are towards the NZICC.
Mallett says standard-room shoulder and peak season rates could be around $300/night while larger rooms could be $500-$600/night "but very close to the SkyCity Grand Hotel rates".
And with that, we're back in the Hobson St sunshine and leaving the twin projects which, although no executives would discuss it, could quite possibly be a centrepiece for this country's hosting of the 2021 Apec conference, when 10,000 delegates and 3000 media could be in Auckland for the November leaders' week.
Could Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin perhaps be NZICC guests?