When it opens for business next year, Commercial Bay will be Auckland's largest mixed use development. By the time the first phase of the project completes, there will be a 39,000sq m office tower and 18,000sq m of retail. It will change the face of the central city.
Yet developer Scott Pritchard says its impact will be wider than reviving the area where Queen St meets the waterfront.
Pritchard is the chief executive officer of Precinct Properties. He says: "Commercial Bay is a response in a New Zealand context to what we've seen in gateway cities around the world. Retail is changing. Major retail brands want to position their flagship stores in the city centre.
"For them, it is a challenge finding the right location. Auckland has never had such a concentration of top retailers in one location."
Creating that concentration meant seizing an opportunity that won't come again.
Pritchard says: "We were fortunate to secure the old Downtown shopping centre site. Then by amalgamating our other sites we've established a landholding that allows us to develop something that has that concentration. This is a major opportunity, not only for us as the owner, but for Aucklanders generally to have a retail centre that's as good as you'll find anywhere in the world."
It's unusual for a single developer to acquire this much land in an important central position in Auckland.
Pritchard says it doesn't happen often anywhere in the world.
"We have investors that have exposure to all sorts of real estate companies. To have someone who owns a couple of city centre blocks that are right on the waterfront and on the main street is rare. To be able to knit a number of high rise buildings together along with a retail centre at the base and to provide car parking and seamless links to the rest of the city is also unique.
"We have been able to design this in concert with some major infrastructure, that's the City Rail Link which is under construction as well. Introducing accessibility and public transport to the centre has been a major bonus.
"We're expecting about 10 million people a year to make their way through Commercial Bay retail after it completes," he says.
Architect Blair Johnston leads the Warren and Mahoney team working on the development. He describes Commercial Bay as "tremendously ambitious".
He says: "It is a true mixed-use project. It brings together commercial, retail and transport in the first stage and will later include a new city centre hotel. We don't often see this intensity of land use.
The power of such intensity is that all the different uses will support each other."
Johnston views the retail component as being something not seen before anywhere else in New Zealand — and something that probably won't be.
"It is the antithesis of the suburban mall. In fact, we've banned people working on the project from using the word 'mall'.
There will be a seamless transition to the rest of the city, there's no wind lobby and you won't pass across a threshold to enter."
He says six years ago, his team started thinking about building a new waterfront office tower.
Over the years the project has snowballed. He says: "It's ended with us thinking about building part of the central city."
One of the keys to the project is how it integrates with the rest of the city. At the time of writing, the CRL tunnel is still visible below ground level.
One side of the development will face Britomart at the bottom of Queen St. Shoppers and office workers can emerge from the railway station, cross an open area and enter one of the laneways which thread through the ground level of Commercial Bay.
Pritchard says they will be inviting, and will reflect the lanes that were in the area before the recently removed building was constructed.
"They will be public spaces and the main laneway will be open 24 hours a day. Our challenge is to encourage the 10,000 or so office workers who will be based at the site during the day to return in the evening or weekends with their families and friends".
To help lure them, the top floor of the retail development will be restaurants and a food hall able to cater for 1000 people.
Pritchard says there will be stalls offering $5 meals of noodles or dumplings alongside offerings from local celebrity chefs and a branch of New York restaurant Saxon + Parole.
This content is sponsored by Precint Properties</strong>