New Zealand’s flagship international convention center project faces further significant delays as a fire at the central Auckland construction site continues to burn more than 22 hours after breaking out.
The fire, which began on Tuesday afternoon, had engulfed the roof of the building by Wednesday morning and 26 appliances are on site fighting the blaze, Fire and Emergency New Zealand said. Police have closed roads in the central city and people are being urged to stay away from the area.
SkyCity Entertainment Group, which owns the NZ$700 million ($449 million) project, said it will work with construction contractor Fletcher Building to assess the extent of the damage before determining the impact on project delivery. Both companies said there will be a “material delay” but are unable to be more specific until they have been cleared to enter the building.
“This has been absolutely devastating for us at SkyCity, for Fletcher and for a lot of people in this community,” SkyCity Chief Executive Officer Graeme Stephens said on a conference call. “The damage is significant, the fire is still raging and, stating the obvious, that will lead to a material delay. We’ll be working with Fletcher to re-calibrate expectations once we know the full impact.”
The blaze is the latest setback for the convention center, which was expected to boost economic activity in New Zealand’s largest city. Its opening has been delayed several times, most recently until late 2020, amid capacity constraints and difficulties in the construction sector. Doubt has now been cast on the chances of the center hosting conferences as planned from March 2021, including the scheduled APEC leaders meeting in late 2021.
Stephens said he hopes the fire will be contained by late Wednesday. SkyCity evacuated its casino precinct yesterday, including relocating hotel guests, and expects to re-open Thursday afternoon, he said.
SkyCity shares have dropped 3.3% since news of the fire broke and traded at NZ$3.85 at 11:35 a.m. in Wellington. The company said contract works and third party liability insurances are in place for the center and the adjacent Horizon Hotel, which is also under construction. Stephens said he is “comfortable with the credibility” of the project insurer, which is an international company he declined to identify.
Fletcher Building Chief Executive Ross Taylor said his company faces a “very large rebuild” on the site and is committed to finishing the project. The fire damage is to the top floors and roof of the building but there will be extensive water damage, he said, adding that demolition is unlikely. Fletcher shares were down 2.4% at NZ$4.54 Wednesday after declining 1.5% yesterday.
Photograph: A city view of Auckland, New Zealand, taken on Monday, July 20, 2015. Photographer: Brendon O’Hagan/Bloomberg.
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