Plenty of fish hooks in Cup base options

Space will be at premium whatever option is chosen to house America's Cup bases in downtown Auckland, reports Suzanne McFadden.

Auckland had better hope that there isn’t a huge groundswell of interest from challengers for the 2021 America’s Cup. Because under plans unveiled yesterday, frankly there’s not a lot of space on the city’s waterfront to house more than seven of them.

The search for a team base location - which will guarantee that the Cup is raced in New Zealand, not Italy – is gathering momentum and urgency.

Five base options were presented to Auckland councillors at a workshop yesterday – with the “indicative” price tags on infrastructure required ranging from $140 million to $190 million (the most costly of which happens to be the option Cup defenders Emirates Team New Zealand favour). A decision from council needs to be made in 10 days’ time, to meet the timeline of bases being completed by mid-to-late 2019.

Every option requires wharf expansions into the Waitemata Harbour – and can only accommodate eight teams, at a squeeze.

In 2000, Auckland housed 12 teams – 11 challengers and America’s Cup holder Team New Zealand – for the first America’s Cup defence. Three years later, there were 10 teams in total.

Obviously, it’s impossible to predict this far out how many challengers will turn up for the Prada Cup (the replacement for the Louis Vuitton Challengers’ Trophy) in the summer of 2020-21. But Emirates Team New Zealand would like to think that the double drawcard of sailing in Auckland, and returning to monohulled boats, might attract more teams than the five challengers in Bermuda this year.

There’s another fish hook: under these proposals, not all bases are created equal. Some spaces are distinctly smaller – designed for teams who choose to bring one boat, instead of the maximum two allowed. It’s unlikely many Cup challengers will build only one yacht – especially with a new class of boat - if they want to be competitive.

When questioned about where an overflow of teams might have to go, Rod Marler, design and place director for Panuku, the city’s regeneration agency, said: “We’d have to find another location for them; or reduce the number of teams who can build two boats.”

Although there are five locations tagged as possibilities, it turns out only three are really viable. And one stands out above the rest.

Building a new wharf at the end of Halsey Street is the most expensive option at $190 million – the same amount spent by the Government to upgrade Eden Park Stadium for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But it remains the frontrunner, because “it ticks more boxes than any of the others”, Marler says.

There’s no secret that Halsey St is Team NZ’s preference, because it’s the only option that keeps all of the teams together in one place.

“From our perspective, a location that centralises all event facilities for the benefit of the teams, media, local supporters and international visitors, presents the best opportunity for a world-class event, as well as positive ongoing infrastructure legacy to Auckland,” Team NZ said last night in an emailed statement.

“Some of the options have merits, but also have significant drawbacks. There is a process that Council must work through and we will continue to provide information and support the process to achieve the best outcome possible for everyone."

Halsey isn’t a sure bet, though. The proposal has already sparked opposition, including a call to the city’s councillors from the Society for the Protection of Auckland Harbours and Stop Stealing Our Harbours, to stop “detrimental” reclamation and wharf expansion into the harbour. But Marler says they have included those opposed in discussions early in the process: “They’re across what our thinking is.”

If councillors can’t agree on Halsey St, they are really left with two “dispersed” options – where bases are spread across different wharves. They are also the two cheapest possibilities, at around $140 million.

Most likely of the two is the patchwork of a smaller extension of Halsey Wharf housing four bases, three bases on Wynyard Point east, and one at the end of Hobson Wharf. The other “dispersed” choice involves putting teams up on a new arm of the Westhaven Marina, even further from the city centre where the America’s Cup village – the heart of the event – will be based.

Housing teams on Captain Cook Wharf – the last of the options - appears to be a no-go from the get-go. One option has the race boats docking on the west side of the wharf – which means no cruise ships could berth on next-door Queen’s Wharf while Cup teams are in town.

The second option, with boats docking on the eastern side of Captain Cook, has its own limitations. The site couldn’t be used for future America’s Cup regattas beyond the 2021 defence, because it’s earmarked as a cruise ship berth in future city plans. Team NZ have also voiced their concern about the safety of that option, because of rough water around the wharf.

But, more critically, the imported cars that now fill Captain Cook Wharf can’t be shunted off in time to make way for the boats.

“You would still have to build the port’s planned carpark to accommodate the cars that are currently parked on Captain Cook Wharf, so the time to consent and build that before handing over the wharf for the Cup is just too long,” Marler says. “We just don’t have the time.”

And time is of the essence here if Team NZ are to sign off Auckland as the official venue of the 36th America’s Cup. Resource consent for the successful site should be lodged in January if Council is to meet the deadline of fulfilling Team NZ’s requirements by August 31, 2018. Otherwise the Auld Mug is flying to Italy first class for the next America’s Cup regatta.

Who will pay for this part of the Cup development was also hinted at yesterday. Auckland Council and central government are looking to contribute equally, with some financial input sought from the private sector “to minimise the exposure for the ratepayer and the taxpayer”, says Steve Armitage, general manager destination at ATEED.

The council’s contribution will be included in its new 10-year budget, while the Government is expected to consider its funding involvement next month. A Minister for the America’s Cup is also likely to be appointed.

Some impressive figures around the potential economic impact of Auckland hosting the Cup were also handed out to councillors yesterday. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment predicts the 2021 event will add between $555 and $977 million to the New Zealand economy over four years.

The 2000 and 2003 Cups brought in $495 million and $529 million, respectively. Bermuda saw the equivalent of NZ$336 million directly impacting on the tiny island nation’s GDP.

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