Hard News by Russell Brown


Just don't call it "Party Central"

For the next while, Shed 10 on Queen's Wharf is a giant public bar -- or, if you were to be uncharitable, a giant beer barn. Its Rugby World Cup fit-out comes courtesy of The Heineken Experience, which is "fresh from the Champions League Finals Festival in Hyde Park, London," and consists of a bar, acres of the sponsor's branding, dozens of large and very large TV screens, a performance stage and the sort of fittings and furniture you can hose down if you have to.

I'd show you a picture, but we weren't allowed to take any when I got a look on Saturday.

This, if anywhere, is "Party Central" -- although you won't find that phrase being used anywhere officially. It was dropped on RWC 2011 organisers when John Key announced it out of the blue in 2009, and RWC CEO Martin Snedden was subsequently frank about his distaste for this "terrible terminology" when he spoke to Media7's researcher Sarah Daniell. It simply wasn't part of the "fan zone" branding they'd developed, and its implication of a booze-up was unhelpful.

Snedden was required to write a grovelling apology to McCully after that show aired, but he might console himself with the knowledge that I spoke to a senior executive at DB, local keeper of the Heineken brand, who was similarly unimpressed.

The McCully Effect -- ministerial interference, duplication of roles, poor lines of accountability, confusion of roles -- has been manifest across the project, but it looks like Queen's Wharf will actually work out despite it. Auckland Council is basically in charge now (via a team involving some of the Auckland Festival people, I think). The tupperwaka is out (moved down to the Viaduct) and the giant rugby ball (originally intended for Aotea Square) is in. The space, bigger than you think, is taking shape.

The big stage at the end of the wharf boasts an impressive mega-screen that rolls back and forth as required. The area is furnished with some nice wooden plinths on wheels. New Zealand On Screen -- an interactive serving of our screen culture packed inside a couple of containers -- has a prime spot. And The Cloud is … surprisingly lovely. I think some of the late nightclub events there are going to be quite special.

The online events calendar at Auckland 2011 still doesn't offer a useful overview, so here, again, is the schedule provided to media.

Auckland is in motion this week. Our refurbished art gallery re-opened on Saturday, to quite some acclaim. Half the city apparently descended on Wynyard Quarter yesterday and the wobbly hospitality strip predictably didn't cope. The K Road Business Association has anounced that the dreadful steel panels obscuring the view from the refurbished K Road overbridge are a "technical error" and will be removed, although not until after the Cup. (I'm not inclined to come down hard on the KBA about this -- they're good people, not architects. The actual architects on the other hand ...)

But it's Queen's Wharf where the whole party project is most likely to go wrong or right. The concept has survived a shambolic birth: plans for a cruise ship terminal scrapped because Auckland's leaders didn't fancy coming up with with $100 million at the behest of the unelected Auckland Transition Agency; former Auckland City mayor John Banks virtually ordering citizens to snub the place; and yet more peevish behaviour from McCully.

It's going to take some careful management and a polite and good-humoured approach from security staff. The celebrating masses will need to be steered away from misadventure on a space that still contains many of the fittings of a working wharf. And the kindness of the weather will be required, although the wharf is now more sheltered than you might think. But for now ... see you down there.

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