It's road works and delays right now - but Auckland’s new downtown is starting to take shape.

Aucklanders will be able to enjoy a whole new relationship with their downtown when the current building, road works and disruption clears – revealing a world-class destination, according to Auckland councillor Pippa Coom.

She was commenting on the start of construction this week to extend the waterfront boundary by 1800 sq m for a $35 million public space on Quay St as Auckland also readies itself for the America's Cup showcase in 2021.

"I believe that what we are putting together will be incredibly attractive, green, with great seating areas, an area which really hums and with pulling power – people will want to hang out there and enjoy the harbour in a way they can't right now," says Coom, councillor for the Waitemata and Gulf ward of Auckland Council.

"The city will have a whole new relationship with Quay St and with the whole downtown area."

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That vision may not always be easy to see if you are one of the drivers caught up in the road works and subsequent delays but Coom says many Aucklanders are in for a big surprise when all the council and private investment in the downtown area begins to reveal itself.

Picture / Supplied
Picture / Supplied

Some Aucklanders, she says, may not yet be able to look past the workmen and the road cones but "I think eventually they are going to go, 'wow!' Once you join the dots from the City Rail Link, to the rebuild of Quay St and private developments like Commercial Bay, I think people will realise what a huge boon all this will be to Auckland – and to their enjoyment of the downtown area."

Mayor Phil Goff agrees: "The unprecedented level of development in central Auckland—including projects such as the City Rail Link, Quay Street enhancement, Wynyard Common, Karangahape Road upgrade, High Street and more—will be transformational and will ensure our city develops as a vibrant destination.

"The legacy of these projects will be a world-class city centre that Aucklanders are proud of and that enables us to fulfil our role as New Zealand's internationally competitive city."
Certainly the numbers around the various developments add up to significant change.

The Downtown Public Space project is costing $35m, part of a $332m council package of six projects to enhance Quay St and transform the waterfront for the America's Cup. Add to that the $4 billion of funding from the council and government going to the City Rail Link and about $14bn of private investment going into Commercial Bay and other nearby projects, like the $300m Seascape 52-storey apartments and hotel complex.

Picture / Supplied
Picture / Supplied

Construction of the Downtown Public Space project will take 12 months – but will boast an elevated tidal shelf jutting out into the Waitemata Harbour from Quay St, showcasing a paved public area in the ferry basin between Princes Wharf and Queens Wharf.

Part of the overall project involves strengthening the sea wall to protect Quay St seismically and the utilities running beneath it. Other elements include widening the footpaths to give a more boulevard-like feel, with one car lane and one dedicated bus lane on each side of the street. The Quay St enhancement will also see more trees, new street furniture, a downtown bus interchange will be created at lower Albert St and six new ferry berths on the west side of Queens wharf will be the beginning of a modern ferry terminal.

Coom says the overall regeneration will also link the waterfront and Quay Street with Wynyard Quarter, where preparations are well underway to host the America's Cup in 2021.

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Commercial Bay – the $1.5bn development of offices, retail and commercial space – will also change the way people look at downtown. About 10,000 people are expected to work in Commercial Bay, including the new 39-storey PwC tower, expected to be completed next year. A second stage, One Queen Street will be a $298m mix of offices, a luxury hotel, retail, bars and restaurants.

"I think downtown will be a very different place for the next generation of Aucklanders," Coom says, "perhaps almost unrecognisable to people today.

"What's happening on Quay St is just the latest example. What we'll see there in the end is an attractive area that will draw people in. At the moment in Quay St, you can't sit outside a bar or restaurant and enjoy the vista – and there are not many of those kind of places there anyway.

"It will have real bustle and movement – it will be a transport hub too for buses, trains and ferries – and there will be a buzz there, I believe.

"If you look at it now, I sometimes feel sorry for the people that arrive on the cruise ships and want to go up Queen St – they are greeted by this wall of traffic. What we're doing there will ease that and make the waterfront vista more available, encouraging places to spring up to enjoy that vista."

Coom says private developments like Commercial Bay, One Queen Street and Seascape apartments and hotel had been a catalyst in the council plans for downtown.

"Commercial Bay, when they presented to the council a few years ago, said they wanted there to be a much better environment in the area – and that an upgraded downtown area would provide not just economic benefits but more attractive features like extended footpaths, more dining space, more things to do and a vista for their tenants.

"They basically said they were putting in over a billion dollars into the bottom of Queen St and that there needed to be investment in the streetscape as well."

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