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Property bosses split on waterfront vision
Wednesday November 15, 2006
By Anne Gibson

Two real estate chiefs with Auckland property holdings valued at more than $1 billion are backing the waterfront site for Stadium New Zealand, but fear a wave of negativity could sink the proposal.

Rob Lang of AMP NZ Office Trust and Andy Evans of ING Property Trust yesterday said they had a lot riding on next week's decision because of their Auckland investments.

But both said anti-waterfront critics were more motivated to voice their opinions than those in favour and could sway the decision.

The two men control more than $2 billion of properties, and Lang said his trust had $600 million invested in downtown Auckland, including the PricewaterhouseCoopers Tower where Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard launched the Government's an-nouncement of its preference for the waterfront on Friday.

Lang criticised detractors of the waterfront site and said it was outrageous New Zealand had no stadium built specifically for rugby.

"I'm utterly stunned that as a country we don't have a purpose-built stadium for rugby, our national sport.

"The waterfront is the best option because downtown Auckland has the transport, accommodation and infrastructure for big events. The waterfront will be a focus for events and money will be spent in the CBD economy, so I can't see how that's a bad thing."

A vibrant CBD was good for the trust and for the city. But to back the waterfront took vision and courage, which many people lacked, he said.

Lang cited development of the Westpac Stadium as a project which had divided many but which was now a major asset to Wellington.

Evans said a "vocal minority" could jeopardise the waterfront proposal.

"It's got to be the downtown site because of the tourists. The benefits for the city of having a critical mass like a stadium around a central area far outweigh the history and sentimentality that goes with Eden Park, which is a dinosaur."

Nick Hargreaves, agency director at Jones Lang LaSalle, also backed the waterfront site. He said it would enhance the CBD, which was going through a transition and rejuvenation with the Britomart upgrade and number of hotel redevelopments.

"Like the stadium in Wellington, the waterfront site for the Auckland stadium will be good for the CBD."

Angus McNaughton, head of the country's largest property investor, Kiwi Income Property Trust, disapproved of the waterfront site, saying the land could be used in a better way.

"The waterfront should be utilised for an activity that will have permanent benefits for Auckland, rather than one-off."

A large, inter-national-style conference centre would be better on the waterfront than a sports stadium, and he also doubted if a stadium could be built on the waterfront by 2011.

"I think there are big question marks over the deliverability of the project and what it will ultimately cost. A fast-track programme comes at a significant cost, and I don't think enough work has gone into accurate cost estimates."

Professor Clinton Bird, a member of Auckland City's Urban Design Panel, backs Eden Park.

He said images presented on Friday did not show what the stadium would look like from Queen St or Quay St. It was good urban design to put activities such as cafes and bars around the stadium as suggested, but similar businesses struggled outside summer at Princes Wharf and the Viaduct Harbour, where people lived.

He estimated that the stadium would be four or five times the perimeter of Princes Wharf.

"I don't see how anyone will be able to make a viable business to pay the rent in a place like that, and if you do put houses and offices and hotels then you simply increase the size of the footprint and make the proposal even more preposterous."

Bluewater chief executive Matthew Cockram also criticised the waterfront choice, questioning the stadium's bulk in front of his group's 18 historic low-rise buildings.

Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable is against the waterfront proposal, but not because of the site. "I'm doubtful of the case for large taxpayer or ratepayer subsidies for stadiums."

Fletcher Construction executives worked last weekend on the timing for building a waterfront stadium.

Mark Binns, Fletcher Building's infrastructure chief executive, said timing was crucial so a team had met at the weekend to further plans for the waterfront.

Fletcher told the Government Eden Park or the waterfront could both be done in time, although they would have tight construction timeframes.

Mallard said international stadium designer HOK Sport Architecture would work on the waterfront proposal.

HOK is part of international architecture business Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, which the minister said had already provided input on the project.

He cited HOK's work on the Melbourne Cricket Ground redevelopment and Melbourne Telstra Dome, used for theatrical and entertainment events as well as for sport. HOK also worked on Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and Sydney's 80,000-seat Telstra Olympic Stadium.

HOK is expected to work with New Zealand's Warren & Mahoney on the details of the waterfront option. HOK has offices in London, Brisbane, Kansas City, Nashville and Denver, a role in more than 800 projects and 350 employees. Staff from its Brisbane office are involved with the Auckland stadium.

Divided views

"The waterfront is the best option because downtown Auckland has the transport, accommodation and infrastructure for big events."

- Rob Lang, AMP NZ Office Trust


"It's got to be the downtown site because of the tourists."

- Andy Evans, ING Property Trust


"I think there are big question marks over the deliverability of the project and what it will ultimately cost."

- Angus McNaughton, Kiwi Income Property Trust


"I don't see how anyone will be able to make a viable business to pay the rent in a place like that."

- Clinton Bird, Urban Design Panel