Allan Barber calls on the Auckland Council to 'grasp the nettle' to ensure the America's Cup is hosted in Auckland with an infrastructure that makes the most of the event and the years after

By Allan Barber

Emirates Team New Zealand has earned this country the right to host the next America’s Cup, currently scheduled to take place in 2021, and Auckland is clearly the front runner to be the host city.

But to listen to Mayor Phil Goff, it seems his great enthusiasm for the winning team on their return after winning the Cup in Bermuda may disappear unless everybody other than Auckland contributes to the hosting costs.

This stance is understandable when one considers the Council’s commitment to holding annual rate increases at 2.5%, but it ignores the bigger picture. Without the last America’s Cup defence Auckland would not have seen the Viaduct development, but surely nobody could envisage the harbour and waterfront without it.

The financial benefits of the next defence are estimated to exceed $1 billion; although some of this will trickle down to other parts of the country, the majority will be spent in Auckland.

If the Council wants this to happen, it will just have to work out ways of funding its share of hosting the next Cup regatta. Otherwise we may find it goes somewhere completely different, even off shore.

The first question to be answered is exactly what the responsibility of Council is, as distinct from that of the Government, Team New Zealand, NZ Yacht Squadron, Cup syndicates and the private sector. All syndicates would take responsibility for leasing facilities and customising them to meet their requirements. But it is pretty obvious that ownership of the waterfront and land required as a syndicate base rests with the Council and this would have to be made available to them in a usable condition. Private alternatives, for example Gulf Harbour, might be available, but access logistics to and from the Whangaparaoa Peninsula make this unrealistic.

The Government has provided $5 million to enable TNZ to retain its core team while it draws up the new America’s Cup protocol, but this will only last so long, before financial reality starts to bite. Without decisions on the venue, boat design and Cup village base, it is difficult to raise money for the defence programme or to attract challengers prepared to commit to entering.

Auckland has its own designated tourism, events and economic development agency ATEED, whose Chief Executive Brett O’Reilly welcomed the opportunity the Cup will provide for waterfront development, accommodation, tourism, boat building and servicing, and major events. Hopefully the Council won’t treat ATEED’s enthusiasm as negatively as when it attempted to develop a new brand for Auckland.

It is hard to imagine the Auckland Council failing to grasp the nettle of spending what is necessary to provide the infrastructure without which the Cup can’t proceed, even if it develops partnerships with central government and the private sector to make it happen.

If Auckland turns the opportunity down for lack of vision, it would be a laughing stock … but at least the rates would be kept down!