SkyCity's new-look international convention centre is being described as 'underwhelming' and a 'lost opportunity'.
The casino operator unveiled its long-awaited design for the centre yesterday after two years of wrangling over the development and who will pay cost blow-outs.
The slightly scaled-back convention centre in central Auckland will cover 32,000 square metres and host up to 3150 conference delegates at any one time, down from the original 3500.
SkyCity said it now expected to spend up to $470 million on the project, much more than the original $402 million, and none of it taxpayer funded.
Tourism operators, frustrated after years of losing hundreds of millions of dollars of business to Australia, said New Zealand was finally catching up.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive officer Chris Roberts said New Zealand was two decades behind Australia in the conventions and conference industry because it did not have a facility of scale.
"Its very difficult to attract a conference of more than 1000 people to New Zealand currently.
"This new facility opens that right up to 3000 people so it captures a sweet spot in the international convention market that we haven't been able to access previously," he said.
The new development was expected to lure thousands more well-heeled, big spending conference delegates, worth an extra $90 million a year to the economy.
However, it would be at least four years before the centre was open.
Conference organisers said they would not be taking any bookings until consent was granted and the first sod was turned.
Conventions and Incentives New Zealand chief executive Sue Sullivan said the centre would allow conference organisers to attract a new market to New Zealand.
She said the pared down version will make little difference.
"The exhibition area is six times larger than what they currently have over at SkyCity and SkyCity is the largest.
"That's significant for anybody that's hosting a considerable trade show, exhibition. That's big part of what they can do and of course they can seat people in there for dinners."
SkyCity hailed the new design as smarter, streamlined and more flexible with light-filled transparent spaces, and floor to ceiling windows with views of Auckland and the Waitemata harbour.
AUT's Professor of Tourism Simon Milne said he wanted to see something grander.
"Its underwhelming. It looks like another square box. It doesn't speak to me of New Zealand, it doesn't speak to me of the marketing presence that we're trying to project to the rest of the world," he said.
Mr Milne was also sceptical about the touted economic benefits.
"I'm a little bit confused that we can be told that it will have the same impact even though it is 10 percent smaller.
"I think that does tend to make one think that perhaps some of these figures and some of these estimates are very much just that.
"The proof will be in the pudding as to what kind of long term employment and income is generated through this facility."
SkyCity said it would also build carparks, a laneway and 300-room five-star hotel, taking the total cost of the convention centre development to at least $650 million.
It said its next step was to secure resource consent and start building by the end of the year.