COMMENT:

What is it about a waterfront stadium that fails to seize me with excitement? Is it just that we've been here before.

I quite liked the idea when Trevor Mallard first presented it to us when he was Sports Minister and Auckland was preparing to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I remember when he came to brief the Herald on it. He wasn't bubbling with excitement, it didn't appear to be an ego project for him or even a political one. He probably knew a lot of Labour people wouldn't like it.

He just thought it made more sense than putting public money into an existing stadium in the wrong place.

Advertisement

But we got quite excited. The editor of the day had long hated the tin sheds on Queens Wharf and that was one of the wharves Mallard's stadium was going to straddle.

I don't know how many enthusiastic editorials I'd written before I happened to walk along the waterfront one day and took stock of one those monstrously ugly car-carrying ships blocking the view of the harbour.

Using the levels on tower blocks nearby, I calculated the stadium would be about twice as high as that leviathan and probably not much prettier.

A little later I was at dinner at the home of friends on Stanley Point and they pointed out exactly where it would be. It would have been a visual disaster.

Back then, there were one or two people who said, why not put it down in the water? Nobody took them seriously, but a waterfront stadium remained one of those ideas that refused to go away. At any gathering of Aucklanders you were likely to meet someone who thought we were mad not to grab Mallard's cash.

Now we're offered a stadium at no cost in taxes or rates. The Eden Park Trust Board simply has to give up its hallowed ground for residential development in return for getting a stadium better located for more varied and frequent use. The Auckland Council has to allow apartments to be erected on the Bledisloe reclamation as well as a sunken stadium. And Ports of Auckland has to find somewhere other than prime waterfront to unload cars.

What's not to like? The consortium now promoting the idea appears to have thought of everything. They are even offering the port, and opponents of the port's efforts to accommodate the latest cruise ships, a berth long enough for the ships which need not poke further into the harbour.

The scheme is big, bold and brilliant. At a stroke it would open up more of the downtown waterfront, give the harbour a central feature, provide Auckland with a covered venue for winter sports in the city centre and silence Tony Waring, Helen Clark and the others who bought and renovated old villas near Eden Park without noticing a stadium in the neighbourhood.

Advertisement

But a waterfront stadium? Those are two enticing things but not together. It's like being offered a steak in ice cream, a wine and beer mix. Can't we have a true waterfront attraction and a truly impressive downtown stadium? A sunken arena would be an international novelty but stadiums can be more than that. In the right place they are attractions in their own right. This one, with its low, wide translucent roof might look like a circus tent.

The originator of this scheme, Phil O'Reilly, has posed a reasonable question. If the waterfront deserves something better, what is it? He pointed out that some of us have been calling for something "iconic" on the harbour for years without ever being able to suggest what that might be.

When the next Sports Minister, Murray McCully, gave us Queens Wharf for the World Cup, we imagined it was just a matter of time before something bold and brilliant was proposed for it. Likewise when we began to contemplate the expiry of the tank farm's lease of the Western Reclamation.

Today Queen's Wharf is a confused mess. Shed 10, which worked well for the World Cup, is a closed-off cruise terminal. The Cloud can be good exhibition space. But the rest is like a neglected extension of Queen St.

The council planners who have done so well with the Viaduct and the Wynyard Quarter seem not to know what to do with a wharf. And I think I know why. Wharves are not especially pleasant places, they are exposed, breezy, not natural public open space. They need a building to make the most of them, preferable one worthy of the prominent position.

I still hold out hope it will happen. Some day somebody will come up with a proposal for these wharves that is so right for the city, so exciting, that we'll wonder why it took so long.