We’re now half way between Emirates Team New Zealand’s win in Bermuda in 2017 and the America’s Cup being staged in Auckland in March 2021.
Two years ago when Peter Burling and Blair Tuke lifted the Auld Mug, Auckland city planners swung into action. A huge, complex programme worth billions was embarked upon, involving improved public spaces around the waterfront, moving tanks from Wynyard Wharf, strengthening wharves for challenger syndicates and constructing new breakwaters.
It was so ambitious that Auckland Council director of infrastructure and environmental services Barry Potter admits it might not all be finished in time.
“It’s a big programme, and quite complex in terms of the inter-connectedness of different parts of that programme. It’s tight, and the team is on track to deliver that …. some parts are under pressure and under higher risk than others but this is transforming that whole Downtown and America’s Cup area, a bit like what we’ve seen already with what the Wynyard Quarter has been through,” he says.
A new Te Wero Bridge is the first casualty of the tight timetable. A design described as 'iconic' is on the drawing board but the chances of getting it in place for 2021 are marginal so the decision has been made to delay it.
Potter says if projects can’t be completed in time – they won’t be started. “The worst thing we could have is a bridge not being there at all,” Potter says. “We don’t want a construction site during the America’s Cup. That bridge is key.”
Potter says the old bridge, which raises to allow boats to pass underneath, is “a bit tired”, but work has been done on it and it is reliable. “It could be a nicer bridge for such an iconic area,” he says, “and what’s proposed there is quite dramatic.”
Also at risk are some pedestrian spaces downtown.
Right now the most prevalent sound from the waterfront area is the constant thump of pile driving, as Hobson Wharf is extended for the Prada base – the challenger of record. The other syndicates will be based on Wynyard Wharf, where tanks have been removed to accommodate them and strengthening is taking place. A new drain will dramatically improve water quality in that area.
Potter says the America’s Cup is driving change that will make Auckland one of the truly great cities.
It’s a massive change from what Locker Room editor Suzanne McFadden describes as a “smelly fishing village” before the first America’s Cup hosting in 2000.
“It’s really amazing when you think about Sir Peter Blake’s vision for this harbour – what he could see that it could be made into,”she says.
“He saw part of that developed in his lifetime but I think he’d be quite amazed at what’s even happened since then.”