Five Auckland bids to build the country's only international convention and exhibition centre are in the spotlight; the Government has to pick one, writes Anne Gibson.

Bidders are on tenterhooks, waiting for the Government to pick the winning offer for Auckland's new international convention and exhibition centre.

The stakes are high, with Auckland chosen as the best place for the $200 million-$500 million-plus project, which will keep teams of architects, engineers, consultants, builders, subtrades and contractors in work for at least two years.

With few projects ahead for 2011, the property development sector is eyeing the bids with fascination and some anticipation, previous working relationships aligning various bidders with builders. Private sector developers, often working closely with architects already chosen, have submitted five bids. They all have merits and drawbacks.

Precisely where that massive new venue of around 2.7ha of indoor space will go is up to the Ministry of Economic Development. Some bidders are venting frustration, fuming that the ministry should have decided by now. Bids had to be submitted by June 18, so why the wait, they ask. The bids are:

The Edge: incorporating the existing Aotea Centre, Auckland Town Hall, the Civic Theatre, refurbishing the decaying old St James and using public amenities in the area, aided by a massive new building on the large flat site now used for car parking on Mayoral Drive alongside Aotea Centre. Herald columnist Brian Rudman favours this, arguing this is the best site and buildings.

"It is a location which places visitors in the heart of Auckland's premier accommodation, transport, restaurant, retail and entertainment services," The Edge says.

SkyCity: expanding its venues to be capable of holding 13,000 people across its site, by developing at 101 Hobson St and building an airbridge over the busy motorway-like thoroughfare through the city. SkyCity has the money and the sites, making its bid a strong contender.

"We would accommodate sit down for 4700 people in one room, over 13,000 across the venue, 3000 underground car parks on site and give immediate access to motorways in all directions via Hobson and Nelson streets eliminating the need for traffic to cross major arterial streets at busy times," says Nigel Morrison, SkyCity chief executive. Plus, he says, building could start almost immediately.

Ngati Whatua O Orakei Trust Board: Quay Park, alongside the Vector Arena, where it could build 6m up in the air, over the vast railway lines to create the venue near main transport nodes and the waterfront. It argues strongly for a partnership with Tangata Whenua, and its documents are extremely impressive and detailed.

"Our site must be given serious consideration for two reasons," said Tiwana Tibble, chief executive. "First it would give effect to the vision articulated by Auckland City in 2009 in its city waterfront master plan. That clearly spells out the need to build a city centre waterfront that is a world class destination. Secondly our site satisfies the most comprehensive list of current international benchmark requirements. We have a flat CBD site of 3ha that is linked to all transport options and very close to the waterfront," he said.

Infratil Infrastructure and Property: At the downtown western precinct, the Wynyard Quarter, across Halsey St from the waterfront, almost directly opposite five-star hotelThe Westin Lighter Quay Auckland, on two large flat sites, one which it already leases from Viaduct Harbour Holdings for its city bus operations, the other which it needs to get Auckland Regional Holding's cooperation over.

"This location provides the convention centre and its users with a precious relationship with the natural setting of the water's edge and harbour while not dominating it. In this way, the project can connect with and reinforce Auckland and New Zealand's international reputation," said Infratils' general manager development, Andrew Lamb.

ASB Showgrounds: wants to build on un-used land at Greenlane, emphasising that although it is a long way from hotels, people could go via coaches between the airport, accommodation to their site.

The 1.8ha of indoor space in the vast exhibition halls are a major plus and the old grandstand could be demolished, a huge new hotel built there and people would enjoy the beauty of Cornwall Park nearby.

"This would be located near the natural landscape of Maungakiekie/Cornwall Park," said chief executive Mark Frankham.

Auckland City Council itself stepped into the five-way tussle before many of the bidders were known, outlining how crucial it is that the site to be picked must only be in the CBD, potentially ruling out ASB and perhaps even Ngati Whatua and Infratil because they are fringe-CBD sites.

"CBD in particular has the physical and organisational capability and infrastructure to cater for the increased business tourism that such a centre would generate.

"Auckland offers business event visitors more than any other city in New Zealand - something we have worked hard to create and feel proud to claim.

"We have more international connectivity, well-developed infrastructure, quality accommodation, hospitality and entertainment options than any other New Zealand city," it said.

"The international meeting market is large and growing, and New Zealand is losing valuable international conferences and hence economic benefits because of a lack of suitable facilities."

The ministry said how the venue would be funded had to be part of the proposal, land ownership had to be explained, plans shown and a list of three to five-star hotels within a 10-minute walk of the proposed site should be indicated.