Precinct Properties' $1 billion development Commercial Bay will open its doors to the public for the first time on June 11 after four years under construction.
The three-level retail precinct in downtown Auckland was earlier planned to open in March, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 lockdown. It has faced a string of opening delays after its original opening was planned for October 2018.
About 120 retailers will open stores in the 18,000sq m centre, a mix of fashion, beauty and food operators, including internationally acclaimed restaurants and a 650-seat dining hall called Harbour Eats.
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Precinct Properties anticipates more than 10 million people will visit the centre each year, and it is expected to turnover hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Commercial Bay has an inside-outside feel and four entry ways via Queen, Customs, Lower Albert and Quay streets. Each entrance has been named by local iwi. The site is styled with black and gold accents and has various nods to Auckland's history throughout, such as wharf beams it excavated from the harbour.
Located at the base of the new PwC Tower, Commercial Bay is made up of eight separate buildings joined by bridges and open-air laneways over three levels. Ground floor and level one are home to mostly fashion retailers, cafes and restaurants, level two features Harbour Eats with more than 26 vendors, and beauty services such as hairdresser Loxy's and a nail bar.
The Little Queen St laneway on the ground floor, inspired by Melbourne's thriving side streets, was designed as a nod to New Zealand designers, home to retailers Superette, Twenty-Seven Names, Ingrid Starnes, Storm and Elle + Riley, among others.
Ecoya, Tommy Hilfiger, Scotch & Soda, Calvin Klein and Aotea will each debut their first New Zealand store in the centre.
Scott Pritchard, chief executive of Precinct Properties, said Commercial Bay was designed to be an open-air extension of the city, opposite in nature to the traditional shopping mall.
More than 8000 workers have been working on the site over past four years and about 500 people are on-site daily as the final work is completed in lead-up to opening.
"We first purchased the site back in 2012, we started designing in 2013 and we started building in 2016; its been a fascinating project, and we can't wait to open the doors very shortly," Pritchard told the Herald.
"There's nothing like this in New Zealand, and there's not a lot of examples of this anywhere in the world, but where we have drawn some influence from is cities like Melbourne and further afield some cities in Europe, and one or two cities in the United States. We've tried to pick the very best out of each of those."
Pritchard said the company had not anticipated that the centre would open amid a global pandemic, but said it was a good chance for New Zealanders to experience the centre before tourists returned.
Aaron Styles, owner of Just Another Fisherman, has been working on the fit-out of the Auckland clothing brand's flagship store for months.
Styles started the brand, which has a small shop attached to its Eden Terrace head office, as a side hustle in 2012. He said having a full-sized store would enable the menswear business to showcase its fishing and outdoors inspired brand and "build the foundations" to grow the business further.
"We're going to portray what we want to create as an identity for a menswear brand; there's not a lot of them in New Zealand any more ... so to be establishing one new is very exciting, especially something that is very New Zealand culture," Styles said.
Investment into the store had been "huge", and as the business had a limited budget the brand had done a lot of the fit-out itself, he said.
Styles said he had recently spent 23 days staining the wood in the store.
Mike Hall-Taylor, co-founder and chief executive of retail brand Edmund Hillary, said the retailer's Commercial Bay store had been designed to feel like the inside of a DoC hut.
Its newest store will be a flagship, bigger than its store at Queenstown Airport location, and will house Sir Edmund Hillary memorabilia.
"The way this shop looks is how our future shops will all look. This is the blueprint for the future," Hall-Taylor said.
The retailer anticipates revenue at the new store would be lower than initial forecasts because of the pandemic and no tourists at present, but he is hopeful the brand will resonate with locals.
"Sales will inevitably down as we're catering to just the domestic market at the moment, but if the transtasman bubble happens then that will be a really big boost for us."
Commercial Bay's central Auckland location would mean it would have a large domestic market customer base compared to Queenstown store. Visitors through the new Edmund Hillary store are expected to be 10 times that of the Queenstown store.
"I'm as optimistic as you can be in this environment."
Superette brand manager Brianna Kirkham said the clothing retailer was one of the first shops to sign on for the development, and began working on internal fit-out plans more than two years ago.
"After a very unpredictable and challenging first half of the year, it is beyond exciting to be able to open our Commercial Bay store. I think the new development will bring a lot of life and spirit into the CBD," Kirkham said.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said the opening of Commercial Bay next month would be a "welcome sign of recovery" as the city returns to what it was before Covid-19.
"The opening marks a huge milestone in the city and we're excited that it's not too far away until the adjacent waterfront area will complement this unique site as a memorable place for Aucklanders to enjoy with their family and friends," she said.
The shopping centre would add an enticing offer to the city centre and would likely appeal to consumers who had spent the past few months quietly at home, Beck said.
About 15 million people visit downtown Auckland each year.