new auckland

Crunch time for America’s Cup venue call

Grant Dalton may have given Auckland a clear-cut deadline of August 30, 2018. But in reality, the city needs to reach a critical decision in the next six weeks if it is going to host the America’s Cup.

The head of Emirates Team New Zealand has made it clear that if the 2021 America’s Cup regatta is to be sailed on the Hauraki Gulf, then Auckland must have the infrastructure to house around 10 team bases guaranteed by the middle of next year. Otherwise, the world’s oldest sporting trophy could be shipped off and sailed for in Italy.

Six final options for base venues on the city’s waterfront will be presented to Mayor Phil Goff and his councillors at a governing body meeting of Auckland Council later this month.

Their decision will have to be snappy. Steve Armitage, one of those responsible for drawing up the options, says a choice needs to be made before Christmas if Dalton’s ultimatum is to be met.

“Ideally we want to be in a position to have the consent notification process started before Christmas. We’re going to have to go through a public consultation process ahead of anything being done,” says Armitage, general manager destination for Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED).

“That’s the timeline we’re working to in order to start the work by the date we need to, in order to have the infrastructure in place for the latter half of next year. It’s tight.” Dalton has also stipulated the facilities need to be completed before the first teams begin to arrive in Auckland mid-2019.

“We could potentially position Auckland as the hub of international ocean water sports, which is a pretty compelling proposition."

To come up with feasible concepts for an America’s Cup hub, Team NZ has been working with a group from ATEED, Panuku (Auckland's urban regeneration agency), Auckland Council and central government agencies including MBIE – the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“Team New Zealand have provided very important guidance around what the basic requirements are for the team bases, and also from a practical point of view around launching the boats safely,” Armitage says.

Having all the teams based in the same location is Team NZ’s preference. Dalton has specified 30,000 sqm of space is needed to house up to 10 syndicates - challengers and the defender - and all of their boats.

All six options are on the city side of the Waitemata Harbour. A proposal for bases to be situated in Devonport was scuppered early in discussions.

Each option has its costs attached. ATEED has previously said that an extension of the Halsey St Wharf – one of the front-runners in this race – could cost $80-100 million.

“I imagine that maybe three [options] will be focused on in a bit more detail,” Armitage says. Some are variations of the same model.

Team NZ's victory parade in Auckland Harbour. Photo: Getty Images

The most likely sites are the extension of Halsey St – the street where the Cup teams were based in 2000 and 2003, and nicknamed “Syndicate Row”; the Westhaven Marina, already home to the Auld Mug at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron; the extension of Captain Cook Wharf, which has already been earmarked for a new cruise ship terminal; and the tank farm at Wynyard Point.

Halsey St stands out because of its proximity to the city, and to the Viaduct Events Centre and Viaduct Harbour - an area which would form an obvious America’s Cup Village.

Goff has emphasised that whichever site is chosen, and the infrastructure then built on it, must be a long-lasting legacy for Auckland once the Auld Mug has left New Zealand shores. Armitage hopes that a world-class event space in the heart of the city could be a major part of that legacy.

“We could potentially position Auckland as the hub of international ocean water sports, which is a pretty compelling proposition,” he says.

“With the Volvo Ocean Race stopover, potentially multiple America’s Cup defences, and a number of other potential water events which we are looking at, we feel there’s a pretty strong pipeline of activity in that space over the next five years.”

“There’s been a lot of consideration, not only for the Cup event itself, but the broader opportunity it provides us to potentially bring forward some of the development around the Auckland waterfront.”

The Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival, held at Auckland Anniversary weekend, is another example of an event that would benefit from a more accessible public viewing place.

“But you also have to look longer-term beyond that, to what else could we leverage from this opportunity? What infrastructure requirements the city is in need of could be brought forward as a part of this as well?” Armitage says. “There’s been a lot of consideration, not only for the Cup event itself, but the broader opportunity it provides us to potentially bring forward some of the development around the Auckland waterfront.”

For the benefit of the ratepayer and taxpayer, the options drawn up have endeavoured to include existing infrastructure.

Once the location has been decided, Armitage says private sector investors will be quickly filled in on the plans. “The intent is to realise at least a third of the investment required through private sector partnerships,” he says. “There’s considerable interest out there around what opportunities might be in play. But until that decision is made, there’s not a lot we can go into detail around with those interested investors.”

It’s unclear what involvement central government will have in creating an America’s Cup headquarters. A Minister for the America’s Cup has yet to be assigned, but the new government is being kept up to speed on planning, funding and infrastructure issues around the Cup through MBIE.

Although the spectre of losing the Cup event to Italy – as detailed in the Cup protocol – hangs over the city, Armitage believes no one is “obsessing over that... We just want to focus on ensuring we provide options that meet everybody’s needs. We feel that we’ve done everything we possibly could do to ensure we are meeting the brief we were provided –  both from Team New Zealand and the city budget point of view. We feel there will be an option agreed on.

“I have to be confident it will happen here!”

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