Thriv­ing Viaduct marks 21 years

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Jo­ce­lyn Rein Be­fore,

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.

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