Who will cheerlead for Auckland?

3:44 pm on 14 November 2017

Analysis - If there is a champion for Auckland's hosting of the America's Cup, now would be a good time to step forward, Todd Niall writes.

A large crowd lines Viaduct Basin to welcome Swiss challenger Alinghi SUI-64 (centre L), skippered by New Zealander Russell Coutts, and Team New Zealand NZL-82 (centre R), skippered by Dean Barker, after the fifth and final race of the 31st America's Cup 02 March 2003.

A large crowd lines Viaduct Basin to after the fifth and final race of the 31st America's Cup in 2003. Photo: AFP

Auckland councillors need to decide in 10 days which of five possible cup village options they will build.

The cost is significant, between an estimated $140 million and $190m.

So are the benefits. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment forecasts an economic benefit to the country of $555m - $977m, and that doesn't include building the infrastructure.

The past two cup defences in Auckland showed most of the economic benefit stayed in the region.

A couple of hours after those figures emerged, I asked the mayor Phil Goff whether he could put his hand on his heart and say that this event will happen in his city.

"I definitely want the America's Cup to be raced in New Zealand," he replied.

The slim possibility that it might not be Auckland didn't seem to alarm him.

"Tauranga has put up a case and if they can demonstrate that they can do that more reasonably, more cheaply, and in a way that suits Team New Zealand, then I'd say good luck to them. That's a call that Team New Zealand would make," Mr Goff said.

Mr Goff as mayor leads a council with big, costly challenges ahead of it - public transport and housing infrastructure just two of them.

But the opening line of his vision - hammered through his election campaign, and relaunched this year on the council's website, is this:

"Auckland needs to be a city that encourages the best and brightest New Zealanders to stay in this country and attracts the skilled people, entrepreneurs and investment our city and country needs."

That's where the America's Cup comes in - the high-tech end of international competitive sailing. An event brought to Auckland by an Auckland-based team that is probably also one of the country's highest-tech design operations, whose designs are built by Auckland firms.

The event is one which - like it or not - brings wealthy international business figures, and superyacht owners whose boats will generate work for local industry, as just one example.

"Probably there isn't a big return to the average ratepayer," Mr Goff said of the economic benefit.

"There is a return to the country as a whole, being able to showcase Auckland and New Zealand, in terms of an economic return measured as GDP."

That is the underlying argument he plans to raise with the government, which Mr Goff feels should pay a bigger share of America's Cup infrastructure than 50-50.

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The preferred, and more expensive option for the Halsey street wharf. Photo: Supplied

The council does seem on track to choose a cup village option in 10 days, even if it's not the "downtown arena" model that Team New Zealand fancies.

That concentration of all eight anticipated teams, and the public areas, in a stadium-like embrace is the most expensive option, though it's not clear by how much.

It's also the most problematic; a major extension of the Halsey Street wharf likely to anger opponents of encroachment into the harbour.

Mr Goff personally fancies a lesser Halsey Street variation, spreading three bases onto Wynyard wharf to the west, and one onto a small extension to Hobson Wharf. Smaller, cheaper, faster-to-build, and less contentious.

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Phil Goff Photo: RNZ / 123rf

Phil Goff for 'America's Cup mayor'?

The media briefing at which the future options were unveiled is also an example of a reluctance to flag-wave.

Originally councillors were set to be briefed on the options, and then these would remain confidential for 10 days until their public decision-making at a full council meeting.

RNZ lobbied for a public release of the details following that briefing, and they were released after the issue was taken up by the mayor's office.

However Mr Goff never intended to be the public face, and as it happened, was still in that councillor briefing when managers from the council's economic agency ATEED and development arm Panuku outlined the details to media.

The council's CEO Stephen Town, who leads the "team Auckland" hosting operation, was similarly still in the councillors' discussion, and the chief operating officer Dean Kimpton observed proceedings from the back of the room.

The government is expected to make its funding decision next month, and appears set to nominate a minister responsible for the America's Cup, a role last treasured by then labour cabinet minister Trevor Mallard.

The question is, will Phil Goff become a cheerleading "America's Cup mayor"? Or might he be seen as a mayor who so far appears to not mind it being in his city, as long as someone else picks up most of the tab.

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