Auckland scrambles for alternative venue for APEC 2021 as NZICC opening goes up in flames

A photo taken inside the SkyCity convention centre has revealed the scale of the damage caused by the ongoing fire.

About 200 litres of water per second were blasted onto the convention centre to put out the blaze on the partially constructed roof, with millions of litres needing to be pumped out from the basement when firefighters have fully extinguished the fire.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the fire damage was contained to the top floors, but water damage would have affected several other floors including the basement.

The scale of the damage has derailed the scheduled opening of the NZ$700 million convention centre in 2020, with leaders and officials scrambling to find alternative venues for major events booked, including the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum nations in November 2021.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said Auckland “won’t lose APEC”, although he conceded the centre was “extraordinarily unlikely” to host it as planned.

“We are a big enough country to run it without the convention centre,” Peters told the New Zealand Herald.

“Auckland has got some alternatives. I don’t want to jump in to say what they are, although some of them will be obvious as venues … which are capable of the security and the least amount of interruption.”

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff said his council would work with the government on a different venue, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who visited the site on Wednesday, said “there is no question” the city would still host the international meeting which is set to attract between 9000 and 12000 visitors.

Goff said the fire damage meant it could now take more than an extra year to complete the convention centre, pushing the opening back to mid-2021.

Auckland last hosted APEC in 1999 in the Aotea Centre, with some suggesting that the 2021 meeting could also be held there.

“The NZICC is the preferred venue for APEC 2021 meetings in Auckland and it is too early to make any decisions as to whether the preferred venue needs to change,” said Nick Hill, the chief executive of the city’s events and economic development agency, ATEED.

“As with any project of APEC’s magnitude, there are contingency plans in place around New Zealand’s and Auckland’s intended venues.”