Waterfront fit for a Cup

Auckland’s harbourside has transformed into an international commercial, residential and recreational hub since the historic America’s Cup win in 1995

Total Property - Issue 6 2020

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It was 1995 in San Diego and victory was sweet. Team New Zealand, led by Sir Peter Blake, had taken out the America’s Cup. That historic win against Team Dennis Connor across the ocean led to more than parades and national pride back home - it also kickstarted the transformation of Auckland’s waterfront.

The late Sir Peter Blake was a champion in the redevelopment of the Viaduct Harbour, wanting Auckland’s then port and industrial landscape to become a fitting stage for the 2000 defence of the cup. The subsequent campaign brought another victory, this time against Prada, and also superyachts to the harbour on a scale and luxury not seen before.

With Auckland set to host the upcoming 36th America’s Cup it’s fitting the waterfront is now an international hub of commercial, innovation, retail and residential.

All along Quay Street from Britomart, through Commercial Bay and along to vibrant Wynyard Quarter, the area is host to a mix of fine dining, diverse shopping, a who’s who of local and global big name companies, superyacht berths and facilities, top notch hotels and award-winning high end apartments.

It is so sought-after office occupiers have followed a global trend and steadily migrated down Queen Street towards the water. Occupiers already at Wynyard Quarter or coming include Fortune 100 companies, NZX or ASX listed tenants and more – everyone from the ASB, KPMG, Auckland Transport, Fonterra, Genesis Energy, Kiwibank, HP, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Amazon, Datacom and Air New Zealand want to be there.

And more will come. Panuku Development Auckland says as Wynyard Quarter evolves it will be home to around 3,000 residents and 20,000 workers.

Angela Bull, CEO of Tramco, which includes Viaduct Harbour Holdings in its portfolio of landholdings, says the master planning of the waterfront has been a focus for the last 20 years. “Viaduct Harbour Holdings owns the land of the Viaduct Harbour Precinct - a vibrant mix of restaurants and bars, hotels, residential and commercial office, all next to what has to be one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. We are incredibly lucky to have this on our doorstep.”

What has been achieved has been outstanding, Bull says, thanks to the vision and commitment of the talented building owners, developers and residents, who put a lot of thought and care into what would be the right mix for the Viaduct.

“In many ways I think the Viaduct was ahead of its time in its master planning of the precinct and getting that real mix of uses and amenity – you can see those results with the design and quality of the Viaduct Harbour Precinct.”

All that and you can still buy a lifejacket and get your boat serviced in the marine industry down near the Harbour Bridge.

Viaduct Harbour Holdings has been thrilled with the international companies flocking to or already at the waterfront, and also important and exciting New Zealand companies like Fonterra, Datacom, and Bayleys, Bull says.

“We’ve got absolutely world-class hospitality offers as well with iconic restaurants and bars.”

The Viaduct Harbour waterfront is also an incredible destination for the public. “You can walk all the way along the waterfront through our part of the precinct. That connection to the waterfront is just a cool part of what Auckland is about.”

Precinct Properties’ significant investment in Auckland is centred at 1 Queen Street and Wynyard Quarter and the company says with Auckland Council’s big investment the City Rail Link, ferry terminal and North Shore bus terminal upgrades will connect the waterfront to other parts of the city.

This ease of accessibility is part of the plan to restore Commercial Bay back to Auckland’s primary area for trade and commerce with Precinct’s CEO, Scott Pritchard, saying historically the city centre ran north to south but over the last decade there has been a reversal to east to west with corporate occupiers relocating closer to the waterfront.

Willis Bond CEO Mark McGuinness, whose company has pumped many hundreds of millions of dollars into apartment builds at Wynyard Quarter, says the city has a lot to thank Sir Peter Blake for.

“I think I would also acknowledge the early visionaries and an entity called Sea and City, and Waterfront Auckland, who had a vision the council bought into. People like Adrienne Young-Cooper and others around her. Bob Harvey. People who basically had the vision and stuck to it and empowered people to do it.”

McGuinness hails these folk as “the silent warriors” who helped get the waterfront to where it is today, describing Wynyard Quarter as one of the most exciting developments Willis Bond has been involved in.

“We took part in a process going back to 2012/2013 where proposals were invited from around the world for redeveloping it. We’ve done a lot of waterfront development in Wellington and I saw Wynyard as an incredible opportunity to help reinvent the inner city. Historically, the inner-city was a ghost town at weekends and, frankly, it’s too good for that.”

The planning and execution by the council and the various development partners has been exceptional, he says.

“I’ve visited waterfront developments around the world; Barcelona, Canary Wharf, Manhattan, you name it, ranging from quite big ones like Hudson Yards to quite small ones and there are a number of key characteristics that really make them work.”

One of those characteristics is courage at the top with landowners who are willing to invest and be patient, and also to have that strong vision and to stick with it.

“That’s why Auckland has been delivered a fantastic waterfront. There’s offices, there’s residential, there’s hospitality, retail. All the amenity is there. If you wanted to take the family out at the weekend, what a cool place to go. It’s just great and Auckland didn’t have that. It was all walled off behind gates. It was a working port and with containerisation all this land was freed up.”

Waterfronts are being treated with a new respect and a key to their success is mixed use, says McGuinness.

“What those big companies deliver is customers at lunch time for the cafes and restaurants and all of that, and in the weekend the people arrive. That mix, along with the apartment residents, keep those businesses flourishing. It’s a really great model. If you just have apartments it doesn’t generate the same amount of income for hospitality or retail.”

People also want to live by the water and residential sales at Wynyard Quarter are among the highest in the land on a square meterage rate.

“We’ve sold literally hundreds of apartments now and at very good values.”

Willis Bond has already delivered on buildings in Wynyard Central and the three buildings which make up Number 132 Halsey, with the first stage of 30 Madden due to finish at the end of this year. Stage two is under way and the company has two further development blocks.

“By the time we’re finished it will be about 600 apartments over about 13 buildings.”

McGuinness says research shows you can add about two years to your life if you live in a walkable environment, and residents lucky enough to live on the waterfront get a holiday feel with the benefits of the big city. “For Aucklanders, here’s a radical thing. You can walk to work or you can walk to the shopping centre or the supermarket. It’s a 21st Century way of living your life.”

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