Thriving Viaduct marks 21 years
It’s mid-afternoon on a sunny autumn Sunday in downtown Auckland.
A female tourist with a European accent joins the throng of people waiting at the traffic lights to cross Customs St, heading for the ferry building.
She turns and asks the girl next to her in broken English, “Are there any restaurants here where I can sit and look at the water?
“I just want somewhere I can sit and eat and look at the sea.”
She is pointed in the direction of the Viaduct, and its buzzing strip of cafes, restaurants and bars on the water’s edge.
Two decades ago, she would have been out of luck.
The Viaduct turns 21 this year and it’s come a long way from the decrepit collection of wharves it used to be.
The magnificent Hilton Hotel, flanked by the Maritime Museum, sits in place of dreary warehouses and top restaurants Soul, Kermadec and countless others line the bustling pedestriancobblestones.
In 1988, after the stock market crash, Fletcher Building was looking to generate some development and job opportunities but didn’t have any projects in mind.
Founding chief executive of London’s successful Docklands development Reg Ward was invited to assist and zeroed in on Auckland’s rundown waterfront as the perfect solution.
Peter Bourke was Fletchers’ property developer in charge of the project, named Project 90.
He says the Viaduct was basically where Auckland’s fishing fleet was.
“It was a real derelict scene,” he says.
If the redevelopment could get tourists to stay one extra night in the city it would create more than 20,000 jobs and bring in $200 million extra a year, people were told.
Tony Edmonds, who handled public relations for the project, says gaining public support was the first hurdle.
He says an architecture exhibition of possible “dream schemes” for the waterfront really got people buzzing.
Strong support from Ngati Whatua was also a pleasant surprise.
“It was pretty much a nobrainer,” says Tony.
For the next 10 years the development ran without a hitch, with the 1990 America’s Cup Act providing a fast-track for the myriad resource consents and zoning changes.
“It was a real success of the public and private sector working together,” says Tony.
“We haven’t seen anything like it since.”
The cup was one of the major driving forces giving the development momentum.
After New Zealand’s win in 1993, Peter says the way was paved.
The vision was one of public space, retail and residential areas where people could simply be at the water’s edge.
A Project 90 publicity booklet created at the time cited the potential for a spectacular transformation.
Twenty-one years on and an estimated billion dollars later, Peter says 90 percent of the vision has been realised.
He remembers being down in the Viaduct the evening Team New Zealand success- fully defended the America’s Cup in March 2000 and refl on the area’s transformation.
Swanky bars, restaurants and luxury apartments lined the former ugly and abandoned harbourfront.
“It was just the happiest, largest celebration I’ve ever seen.”
As they talk about the Viaduct and the changes it’s seen, there is a sense of deja vu.
An economic recession was happening at the same time as a local government shake-up and all as Auckland was preparing to host a major international sporting event.
“It was almost as bad then as it is today,” says Tony.
“Let’s start generating development now.”
With projects such as Wynyard Quarter under way to the north and the revival of the Britomart precinct to the south, it seems we already have.