Today's Cabinet meeting is scheduled to dwell for the first time on the international convention and exhibition centre proposed for Auckland. This cannot come soon enough for the five bidders, who have waited expectantly since submitting their plans to the Ministry of Economic Development more than three months ago. Those in the building sector are equally interested. While the Canterbury earthquake will provide plenty of unanticipated work, that does not detract from the importance of this project. The wait for a final decision should not be a long one. One of the bids is utterly compelling in the way that it would add shape and significance to the centre of the Super City, not least through its incorporation of the vintage St James Theatre.

This proposal, by The Edge, would see a massive building constructed on the flat site now used for car parking on Mayoral Drive alongside the Aotea Centre. Additionally, a refurbished St James would complement the convention centre, the Civic and the Town Hall and supplant the Aotea Centre as the main venue for theatre, opera and ballet. The Aotea Centre's main role would be linked to the convention centre.

There is a strong win-win element in this. Crucially, in terms of transport and hotel accommodation, the centre would be at the very heart of the city. Equally, a theatre that, while protected by heritage laws, has slipped into decay would be saved. This would draw particular applause from the likes of English theatre luminaries Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench and New Zealand actor Sam Neill, all of whom have joined a group dubbed the St James Saviours. If many Aucklanders have been more circumspect about the building, that may largely be because it has been concealed by a bland and poorly maintained facade since 1953.

Refurbished, the 1928 Spanish Mission building would undoubtedly add a striking dimension to Queen St, while its ornate colonial-style interior would provide a relatively intimate 1300-seater facility. Only the question of access has hung over The Edge's visionary plan. The theatre's owner has planned to build a 39-storey apartment tower on the site behind it. However, the problems arising from this now seem to have evaporated. While no offer is on the table, a sale appears on the cards.

If the Cabinet has doubts about the merit of this bid, or of the others, it can always turn to guidance provided by the Auckland City Council. The council stepped into the issue even before some of the bids were known, saying it was vital the convention centre was located in the city centre. That is a reasonable conclusion, given that top-quality hotels and easy access to transport are key requirements for those attending conferences and exhibitions. On that basis, the ASB Showgrounds bid centred on unused land at Greenlane is a non-starter. A Ngati Whatua proposal for Quay Park, alongside the Vector Arena, and an Infratil bid for the Wynyard Quarter are flawed for the same reason.

That suggests the main opposition for The Edge proposal comes from SkyCity's plan to bridge Federal St to expand meeting areas, and build an airbridge to a site the company already owns at 101 Hobson St, developing the venue as a multi-level building. Yet as ambitious as this project is, it does not have the advantages inherent in a scheme that would see the convention and exhibition centre built in the right place for the Super City, while casting an eye back in saving a building that has been graced by the likes of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

Too often, Auckland has adopted a cavalier attitude towards its heritage. The Edge's bid offers a welcome counterpoint to that and much more. It should get the Cabinet's seal of approval without undue delay.