What's worse: a massive fire causing millions of dollars of damage to New Zealand's biggest new convention centre or a global pandemic which obliterated international demand for such properties?
These were topics addressed at an Auckland conference today where it was revealed that had last October's fire not hit SkyCity Entertainment's convention centre, the first conference would have been held - that is, if it weren't for Covid-19.
Graeme Stephens, SkyCity chief executive, addressed about 200 people at Opportunity is Calling - Auckland's Future, Now at the Cordis this afternoon.
"Had the convention centre been completed, meetings and the first conferences would have been held in July. We would have staffed up and now been retrenching," he said.
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"As a consequence of it burning down, we have created New Zealand's largest shovel-ready project," he said of the building now being fixed by Fletcher Construction.
"We are hopeful the city will need a convention centre and that project is providing jobs. We expect completion during 2023. There are still some damage assessments to be decided on, but the first conference could be early 2024."
By then, the $4.4 billion City Rail Link "will have come together", with its new Aotea Station near The Grand by SkyCity, enhancing transport links to the company's properties.
On the damaged Horizon Hotel, Stephens said plans were for that to open in just a year: "We are trying to get it open next summer, towards the end of 2021".
There was no point in opening it sooner with the other major hotels around the city nearing completion now and opening soon, he said.
Asked if SkyCity could now become Auckland's equivalent of Las Vegas with big entertainment events and local acts, Stephens said: "It's not something we could host because we are in between convention centres. We don't have the old and we are waiting for the new."
He was referring to SkyCity's ex-convention centre space in The Grand by SkyCity building now being refitted for tourism displays such as the All Black's Experience and as a Weta Workshop experience.
Asked about his outlook, Stephens said: "I am worried about the next 12 to 18 months and we all should be," citing a possible pandemic resurgence.
"But I can see stepping stones. Beyond that, I'm only optimistic. It's the best city in the world to live in and I can say that with some perspective," he said referring to the other cities and countries he has lived in.
He also described problems with an Auckland property plan by the company. Although he did not name it, that is thought to be SkyCity's aspirations for a tall tower on its ex-headquarters Federal St site, after it moved into an Albert St office.
SkyCity is frustrated by the Unitary Plan and wanted "to build taller. I have a piece of ground at SkyCity but you can't go this high because you have to keep sight lines. If we are going to meet aspirations, at some point you have to go taller in the CBD".
He did not spell it out, but the Unitary Plan has sight lines to protect significant land forms such as the maunga and volcanic view shafts.
Scott Pritchard, Precinct Properties chief executive, told the conference he wanted better transport connections to the CBD. If it takes longer than 30 minutes to get into town, people are deterred, he said.
The success of the North Shore's $300m Northern Busway should be replicated in the north-west and south, Pritchard said.
"Good access is a constraint," he said.
Pre-Covid, around 10 to 15 per cent of Auckland CBD's workforce was "operating on an agile basis", he said. Now, that's 20 to 25 per cent but he said excellent state-of-the-art offices led to collaboration among the workforce, brought in younger talent and attracted younger staff.
Half Precinct's Auckland office leasing in the last 12 months had been to technology businesses who five to 10 years ago accounted for a much smaller portion of the market.