Auckland ASB Showgrounds suddenly closes after 160 years

From Checkpoint, 5:39 pm on 23 June 2021

ASB Showgrounds' liquidation is fast becoming very public finger-pointing exercise between two major Auckland trusts.

At least 160 years of history has come to an end for the iconic Auckland event venue, which suddenly announced its liquidation on Tuesday.

The board blames Auckland's crippling Covid-19 lockdowns for the shock decision to close down, but it is also blaming its landlord, Cornwall Park Trust Board.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars worth of classic cars departed ASB Showgrounds on Wednesday morning after news the showgrounds were in liquidation.

Webb's auctioneers Head of Collectors' Cars & Single Owner Collections Caolán McAleer said ASB Showgrounds' liquidation came out of the blue on Tuesday night.

"To say we're disappointed is an understatement.," he told Checkpoint.

The auction house was due to hold a big collectors' car auction this weekend, with about $4 million worth of classic cars, from rare Aston Martins to Holdens onsite.

But not anymore.

On Wednesday, huge car carriers were coming through its gates, instead of potential car buyers.

"[We're] pretty shocked and devastated over what's happened," McAleer said.

"To hear that, especially when we went to such lengths to set it up and make it look incredible.

"So, so disappointed for so many people that were meant to come. We already had hundreds of people."

Showgrounds' leadership are blaming the iconic venue's liquidation on disruptions caused by Auckland moving through the Covid-19 levels.

However, board chairman Kim Campbell said a rent dispute with its landlord, The Cornwall Park Trust, was also to blame.

That is where it gets messy, with Cornwall Trust chair Adrienne Young-Cooper claiming there was no such dispute.

"I don't want to get into detail of … he said, she said," Young-Cooper told Checkpoint.

"We have a very straightforward method set out under the lease and we were well engaged with that process.

"There is nothing unusual about it."

As for Campbell's claims to Stuff - that the Cornwall Park Trust Board wanted to triple the Showgrounds' annual rent from $750,000 to $2.3 million - Young-Cooper said that simply was not the case.

She did not even see the back-and-forth as a dispute.

"That's not how I would describe the circumstances," she said. "We've been in a rent review process since 2018 and there are very clear provisions under the lease that we've got for how ... the rent gets settled.

"Basically it gets settled by valuers providing values and then if we can't ... agree we go to arbitration. That's just a very common method in terms of settling rents."

Young-Cooper said she was surprised to hear Campbell pointing the finger at Cornwall Park Trust.

"I was disappointed to read that," she said.

"We've been in discussion with the Shows Board for months and, in fact, we've had a lot of discussions with Mr Campbell, and they've been cordial."

Meanwhile, Webb's big car auction was not the only major event left picking up the pieces.

The Baby Show, Auckland Home Show and Food show were all set to be held at the ASB Showgrounds in the coming months.

"There's a number of expos there, I know there's a film shooting in there at the minute as well," McAleer said.

"It's affected a lot of people, it's just unfortunate it had to land smack bang in the middle of our event."

He said Webb's, like those other shows, was now scrambling to find a new home for its auction.

"We're working on those logistics at the minute, the team is sorting that out and we'll make an announcement very soon," he said.

For now the Showgrounds remain completely shut to the public, with security vetting anyone coming in and out - a sudden end to a 160-year history.