The fate of a fountain installed in downtown Auckland's Queen Elizabeth Square in 1980 speaks volumes about that space. The wind that often roars through there meant its main impact was the dousing of passing pedestrians. Somehow, this is emblematic of all that has gone wrong with the square, a situation that led eventually to it being largely abandoned to a humdrum existence as the city's de facto bus station. A council plan three years ago to revamp it has yielded nothing of substance. Thus few tears should be shed if the Auckland Council confirms its sale to Precinct Properties.
The developer wants to build a three-storey mall and 36-storey commercial tower there. If that was the extent of the deal, Aucklanders might have room for complaint.
But the conditions of the sale require Precinct to reinstate Little Queen St as a north-south public lane, provide some potential rooftop space, a pedestrian link to a new bus station on lower Albert St, and an unknown sum of cash. The latter will fund a new or enhanced public space, possibly at the foot of lower Albert St or at the Admiralty Steps, east of Queens Wharf.
A windswept, shaded and unloved space is, therefore, being exchanged for something that should benefit Aucklanders far more. It represents an astute bit of business by a cash-strapped council.
The deal takes advantage of the fact that Queen Elizabeth Square is prime commercial property. It has proved anything but first-rate in its 40 years as a public space.