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Bidders for New Zealand's new international convention and exhibition centre hope to hear next month who will be picked.
Maori, The Edge, ASB Showgrounds and two NZX-listed entities - Infratil and SkyCity - are competing for the opportunity to build the country's only world-class convention venue.
Builders, architects, property consultants and the tourism sector see the project as a boost for the building sector.
The Ministry of Economic Development called for tenders for a new indoor venue with a 2.7ha floorspace to cater for large-scale conferences and events, saying New Zealand is missing out on millions. Some central and local government funding is on the table.
About 15,000 businesses hold conferences annually but only a few dozen are held in New Zealand. Asia is a growing market and New Zealand stands to gain an estimated 22,000 visitors and $80 million in extra revenue each year by building the venue.
Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions don't have a big enough New Zealand venue, the ministry says, and delegates who attend those events spend five times as much as tourists.
"New Zealand is not currently competitive in international conferences of over 1000 delegates, which is the area of strongest growth in this market over the last 10 years. While organisers are eager to bring their conference to Australasia and the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand is often passed by because it lacks an international standard facility of an appropriate scale," the ministry said.
This venue must be purpose-built and be able to host 3500-5000 delegates, including associate areas for separate functions like exhibitions. Proximity to a critical mass of four to five-star hotel rooms is "the single most important attribute" because of the convenience this provides organisers and delegates.
But the ministry did not demand designs so the finished shape of the winning bid remains unknown. Infratil only submitted a bulk and location study image to show how and where its building would go. Its architects Warren & Mahoney stressed the need to treat that image purely to show those elements, not cladding, design, look or structure.
Bidders are fretting the choice could be hijacked by vested interests within Auckland City, pushing for The Edge/Aotea bid.
"The ministry's call for expressions of interest gave no programme or details as to how these will be evaluated," said one worried bidder. "What shouldn't happen now is that the city doesn't have a clear process and debate over options."
Auckland City prepared its own response and weighed up the various location pros and cons.
Big construction firms are watching the process closely, worried about their order books next year when some of the big government infrastructure jobs are finished and delighted with the spectre of one job worth $200 million to $500 million.
Fletcher Building's construction division has 80 per cent of its workload in the state sector, busy on big stadium and motorway jobs. But analysts like Rob Mercer at Forsyth Barr are concerned about its 2011 order book.
Winning the tender to build the new Auckland venue would be a big boost.
Darling Harbour's Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre is cited by some bidders as the type of venue Auckland needs.
That venue, 1.2km from the centre of Sydney's CBD, opened in 1988 with additions in 1999 for Sydney's 2000 Olympic Games.
Seven hotels in the area provide about 2330 hotel rooms and many of those hotels rose after the venue was built.
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on South Bank, and other venues in Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Japan are used to benchmark the expectations for Auckland.
THE FIVE BIDS
The casino company and Moller Architects have devised a plan to bridge Federal St to expand existing meeting areas, and then build a more substantial airbridge to a site the company already owns at 101 Hobson St, developing the venue as a multi-level building.
SkyCity's chief executive Nigel Morrison says the venue could accommodate sit-down dining for 4700 people in one room but over 13,000 people across all its facilities.
Its advantages are the existing gambling, entertainment, dining and accommodation facilities spread from Albert St to Federal St.
It would then link Hobson and Nelson Sts into those venues and could offer 3000 underground car parks on-site and immediate access to motorways in all directions. SkyCity says that eliminates the need for traffic to cross major arterial streets at busy times.
The bid has the advantageof 5100 rooms in 26 hotels within an easy walk of the proposed venue, including SkyCity's own four-star and five-star hotels which would be directly linked via the airbridges. SkyCity says its project is central to existing shops, bars, restaurants, cafes, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland University, The Edge and Auckland's central entertainment district.
"SkyCity is in the top five tourist attractions with nearly five million visitors each year and having the national convention centre within walking distance is appropriate," a spokesperson said.
The listed infrastructure firm's bid, prepared with architects Warren and Mahoney, proposes building on an existing 1.7ha site now used to service, park and maintain Link and Metrolink buses opposite The Westin hotel at Lighter Quay.
Infratil leases the land from Viaduct Harbour Holdings. It would amalgamate that site with an adjoining 1.7ha Auckland Regional Holdings-owned site to get a big enough area.
Andrew Lamb, development general manager, said Infratil's site could be developed within four years and was unique for its direct access to the water across Halsey St so red-carpet events could be staged from boats into a proposed 3500-seat auditorium.
The level site in the growing western precinct was near hotels and was a "blank canvas" unconstrained by existing facilities or structures. Proximity and access to the water and public open areas around Viaduct Harbour, Lighter Quay and Wynyard Quarter were advantages, as was as accessibility to motorways and Fanshawe St, he said.
Hawkins Construction is building the new Viaduct Events Centre nearby and Sea+City's expansion plan for the Wynyard Quarter will see the region transformed.
The iwi prepared its bid, called CBD Quay Street, with Campbell Consulting and is offering a 3.3ha site which it can push out to 4.4ha because it cited the 10,000-seat Vector Arena in its submission to the ministry.
Critics attack Ngati Whatua for having to build 6m above the ground to preserve the rail corridor but chief executive Tiwana Tibble emphasises the flat nature of the land, the legacy project in partnership with the city and dismisses the above-ground structure.
"Critics are going to talk about our up-in-the air structure and we're going to say 'go to Melbourne and look at what people do there'."
"All three major international and convention and exhibition centres that would be competitive with Auckland - Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne - have their main event facilities all on one level. Exhibition halls in all major international convention and exhibition centres in Australia and Asia are on the ground floor. This is because all exhibition organisers require ease of access. Using lifts is unacceptable to major exhibition organisers and adds significant costs to events. Building on one level also significantly reduces capital cost and allows all facilities to be clear-span and pillarless," Ngati Whatua's proposal says.
ASB Showgrounds worked with Archimedia and acknowledges its location is outside the CBD but says that has advantages, being opposite the natural area of Maungakiekie/Cornwall Park.
Showgrounds chief executive Mark Frankham stresses coaches as the preferred means of transport and reckons people could easily stay in the CBD and coach out to his site daily. His proposal is for a $229 million centre with 450-room hotel on the showgrounds site.
The showground's expanded exhibition halls have 3.5ha of indoor floor space, and Frankham said that gave Greenlane the edge over other Auckland sites. The 8.2ha site is the biggest put forward and Frankham wants to use asphalted land between the existing convention halls, Puriri Drive and Green Lane West.
His bid offers 800 on-site carparks and to get around the ministry's call that bidders show "a list of three to five-star hotels within a 10-minute walk" from the venue, Frankham submitted a big colour aerial showing a "CBD hotel coach loop" and his site's proximity to the airport, railway lines and motorways.
Proponents say the beauty of The Edge's bid for the city-owned Mayoral Drive carpark alongside Aotea Centre is proximity to Aotea Centre, Auckland Town Hall, The Civic, Aotea Square, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland Central City Library and the new Q Theatre.
The Edge incorporated the St James in its bid and proposes transforming some of Aotea Centre's functions across the road to St James.
Rivals predict the drawback for the project led by Edge chief executive Greg Innes will be problems getting access to the decaying St James Theatre although owner Paul Doole says he will sell but no offers are on the table yet.
Auckland City's 2010-2015 Aotea Quarter plan action plan statement, out in February, stated its desire to "investigate the possible use for the land banked behind the Aotea Centre. Options to consider include a covered drive in, and drop off entrance ... from Mayoral Drive, a drama theatre in Aotea Quarter and a decision about a convention centre site".
Listed next is its appetite for the restoration and re-opening of the St James Theatre.