The long-running saga that is the SkyCity International Convention Centre in Auckland reached a new stage this week with the unveiling of revised designs for project.
SkyCity, New Zealand’s largest casino operator, agreed to build the convention centre in return for the right to expand its marquee casino in Auckland, which also involved a change in the country’s gambling laws. However, the arrangement has been beset by delays from the outset, owing to changes in the design, capacity and function of the centre, as well as the government’s refusal to inject public funds into the project.
It was in May 2011 when SkyCity was selected as the preferred bidder to undertake the construction of the much-needed new facility, at which time it was planned to be 10,000m2 in size and to have capacity for 5,000 people in the main hall. However, these ambitious and costly plans have been downgraded in the intervening years, with the new design that was unvalued this week having floor space of only 8,100m2 and a reduced maximum capacity of 2,850 people.
This reduction in scope, however, has not been accompanied by a downsizing of the estimated cost—$350 million in 2011 has become $430 million in 2015, although there will be no cost to taxpayers, with the casino operator bearing the full expense of construction.
Nevertheless, SkyCity and the government remain bullish about the economic and employment benefits the International Convention Centre will bring to Auckland and New Zealand as a whole, despite its reduced capacity, with an estimated 1,000 jobs being created during the construction phase and another 800 ongoing positions once the venue is opened. Previous forecasts have suggested that the flagship centre could bring in $90 million annually to the country’s coffers (although this figure is based on the 2011 modelling and a more up-to-date forecast is not yet available).
The new design, released by Economic Development minister Steven Joyce and Nigel Morrison, CEO of SkyCity, has not been universally welcomed by the public nor industry insiders. One floor lower than in its previous incarnation, which Prime Minister John Key had called “an eyesore,” this latest version has been described as looking “like a ship beached up on Nelson Street,” by Bill McKay, Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Planning at Auckland University, while concerns have also been raised over its shape and size. “It’s encouraging that they have reduced it…but the thing is still massive,” McKay said.
Construction won’t begin until resource consent is granted by Auckland City Council; however, once it commences the build period is estimated to be three years, meaning the centre won’t be opening its doors to visitors until late 2018 at the earliest.