new auckland

The $212m question: Where’s the legacy?

Auckland councillors will be asked to rubber stamp the latest plan for America's Cup bases on the Auckland waterfront - a plan that has one yawning question hanging over it.

"Where is the legacy from the combined $212m of public funding?"

Legacy, in the language of finance for major sporting events, refers to what is left behind for the ratepayers and taxpayers who funded the Cup base after the match racing is over and the boats sail away.

It has been one of the core principles of the quest by Team New Zealand, the Auckland Council and the Government to find the right home for the Cup teams for the 2021 event. 

Sir Peter Blake's 2000 America's Cup defence in Auckland bequeathed the wonderful Viaduct Basin to citizens. The Rugby World Cup in 2011 bequeathed the rebuilt Eden Park stadium and Queen's Wharf 'Cloud' and Shed 10.

The latest plan known as the Wynyard-Hobson Option has been agreed by the three parties, with the Government also agreeing to pay about $40 million to cover the 'hosting' fee to Team NZ to hold the event in Auckland.

Councillors at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday will be asked to approve $57.2 million of ratepayers' money on capital works and $41.3 million on operating expenditure for the Cup, meaning the city's share is $98.5 million. 

The Government's $40 million hosting fee payment means that of the total of $212.4 million agreed, it would pay just $73.9 million towards the waterfront village.

The latest plan drops previous proposals to extend the Halsey St Wharf by either 75 metres or 25 metres out into the Waitemata, said at the time by proponents of those versions to create long-term access to the sea for maritime sports and events.

It drops a long-term base for Team NZ, which was to have been homed on an extended Hobson Wharf and be a permanent place for inspiring interest in yachting and the harbour. Team NZ under the new plan will simply occupy the existing Viaduct Events Centre for the duration of the regatta and its lead-up, then possibly for a second Cup defence. The events centre would be closed for public events for up to seven years.

Team NZ has won a 'rent concession' for using the events centre up to March 2022, with the Council to reimburse the centre's owner Regional Facilities Auckland.

The construction of up to five challenger syndicate bases over Brigham St and Wynyard Wharf will be 50 percent permanent and the other half as temporary to be removed when the wider Wynyard Point developments go ahead.

The Challenger of Record Italy's Luna Rossa would be housed on the one base on the end of Hobson Wharf, which is the only major wharf extension, moving out into the harbour by a further 74 metres.  

That site is listed in the Council's agenda today as one of the major legacies as it could be used for a permanent waterfront facility. Breakwaters providing calmer waters are also cited as lasting positives, plus walkways around the wharves.

It could be argued that with so little actually being built, there should be questions over why the cost is still so high.

However, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and America's Cup minister David Parker will presumably argue the legacy this plan delivers Auckland is an earlier-than-planned removal of the unsightly tank farm storage facilities and thus earlier creation of the long planned public park up part of the promontory and on Wynyard Point's tip.

Which is fine. But something that was always going to happen is not really 'legacy' of the America's Cup event. An accelerated creation of the park will be widely welcomed but is time-saving worth the big bucks?

The politicians have made much of the need for lasting public benefits from the $212m spend. In effect, they are paying for an early exit (and relocation?) fee for the multinational owners of the tank farm operations. 

The Public Works Act might have to be used to close Brigham Street for the challenger bases to be built over the roadway and out onto Wynyard Wharf.

An application for the extensions to both Halsey and Hobson wharves known as the Wynyard Basin Option has already attracted public submissions but will be withdrawn. A further application for a new base for the Sealink ferry and commercial fishing fleet on the western side of the tank farm land has been put on hold while further negotiations are held with the fishing industry.

If the council today approves the new plan it will be lodged as a replacement application which is expected to add two months to the planning process.

Emirates Team New Zealand's chief executive Grant Dalton said the agreed plan would essentially be the start of the "event build" but "in saying this, there isn't time to celebrate, the clock has been ticking for the past nine months and there is a huge amount to organise and build in a very tight timeline".

Just how much of tangible value remains, once the event is over and the Cup possibly gone, is still to be answered.

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