With the All Blacks in town and their first test of the rugby season against France ready to kick off tonight, it is a morning to savour the city's preparations for big events. Downtown Auckland is a construction site these days but that will pass. Today we report that the major projects are expected to be ready by 2021 when the city hosts an Apec summit and the America's Cup.
A 39-level tower will stand where the Downtown shopping centre used to be. It will be called Commercial Bay, the name acknowledging that it stands where the historic bay existed before it was reclaimed early in Auckland's colonial settlement. The bay is the reason central Auckland is where it is, it was found to be the best anchorage on the south shore of the Waitematā when Governor Hobson was selecting a site for his capital.
Today's Aucklanders will soon know Commercial Bay as an office tower with a range of restaurants and bars and 120 shops on its lower floors and laneway. It promises to provide connections to Britomart and the harbour ferries terminal and restore Queen Elizabeth Square. Beneath it will be underground rail lines, with the first section of the Central Rail Link laid and landscaped.
That will restore Albert St to its former glory. The first section of the rail link was the only one scheduled for cut-and-cover construction. The rest, beyond Wyndham St, will be tunnelled, which should mean less unsightly disruption of streets and retail business on the surface.
The plan we outline today also envisages more open space alongside Quay St and it should also look for a way to divert most of motor traffic. Aucklanders will remember how lively Quay St briefly became as a pedestrian area during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It connected the newly acquired Queens Wharf with Britomart and the Viaduct.
In 2021, the fulcrum of festivities on the waterfront will be a little further west, running from the Viaduct to the Wynyard Quarter. The America's Cup will be centred on the Viaduct Events Centre, the base for Emirates Team New Zealand, with the challengers' bases either side on Hobson and Wynyard wharves. Team NZ is promising that the Events Centre will be a base for the public too, with plenty of yachting-related activities and attractions.
The city's wider sporting facilities could also be much improved by 2021, now that the first move has been made. The news yesterday that Speedway has agreed to relinquish Western Springs for a new track at Wiri opens the way for the stadium reshuffle long proposed by the the council-controlled organisation Regional Facilities Auckland. A proper cricket ground can be established at Western Springs, giving Auckland a venue of the shape and scale in which test cricket should be played.
Without cricket, Eden Park will become an even more difficult economic proposition but this is not the day to worry about that. The park is a sell-out for the test. When it is full it has the atmosphere of all great stadiums. Nothing competes with the roar of a large crowd, unless it is the silent tension that gripped the ground when the All Blacks and France fought out the final of the World Cup.
Events such as that leave us thirsting for more and it is exciting to see the city getting in good shape for its next big performance in just three years time.