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America's Cup: Site 18 vital to New Zealand Marine industry

by Richard Gladwell/Todd Niall RNZ 1 Mar 2018 03:37 PST 1 March 2018
Site 18's scruffy appearance belies its value to Southern Spars and the NZ marine industry © Richard Gladwell

The surprise announcement of a new plan for the America's Cup bases in Auckland by Viaduct Harbour Holdings Ltd has given rise to new concerns from the marine industry over the loss of the facility known as "Site 18" on Auckland's waterfront.

The scruffy piece of land serves as a vital service area to some of the world's most glamorous sailing craft.

It was first slipped into Auckland America's Cup base planning in November 2017, with two bases being tagged for the waterfront site which borders on Westhaven marina. However when scored by the Auckland Council owned Panuku Development's team the "Wynyard Point Dispersed" option which included Site 18 was marked at 52 on a 100point scale - just above a fail.

It was dropped as a serious option, but was then revived by Minister of Economic Development David Parker after a Sunday walk-around Wynyard Point.

The serious consequences of the the loss of Site 18 for the NZ marine industry were highlighted by the President of North Technology Inc, Tom Whidden, as reported in Sail-World at the time. North Technology is the world's largest and most significant marine industry player.

Many assumed the issue had been buried once and for all, until Viaduct Harbour Holdings Ltd released their plan taking the America's Cup bases onto land on Wynyard Point, without talking through the issues directly with Emirates Team NZ.

That prompted Southern Spars to commission a fact sheet on the background and implications of Site 18 to the world's predominant spar maker and the NZ marine industry generally. It can be read by clicking here

Southern Spars is one of several companies mostly based in West Auckland which had their genesis in the marine industry but are now adapting their composite engineering expertise outside the marine industry, providing valuable employment opportunities from apprentice level upwards.

Southern Spars was the primary builder of Emirates Team New Zealand's America's Cup winning AC50. However superyacht spar construction remain as the companies core business.

Radio New Zealand's America's Cup correspondent, Todd Niall spoke with one of Southern Spars founders, Mark Hauser.

One of the country's biggest marine manufacturers says its future in New Zealand could be in doubt if a waterfront site it uses is lost to accommodate an America's Cup Village in Auckland. So-called Site 18 is currently shared between Team New Zealand and the marine industry.

Southern Spars employs more than 300 people, but the site it uses to service superyachts has been suggested as an America's Cup team base.

The so-called Site 18 had been rejected last year by Auckland officials, partly because of its value to the marine industry, but it appears in informal proposals from property company Viaduct Harbour Holdings.

Southern Spars said its Avondale factory supplied 85 percent of the world's masts for superyachts, and has half the market for large racing yacht masts.

Chief executive Mark Hauser said there was no alternative location that allowed work on the biggest masts on the biggest boats.

"We build masts and we need to put them into boats - that's a big part of what Site 18 is to us," he told RNZ.

"Without it, whether we'd be able to stay in New Zealand, I'm not sure."

The site is adjacent to the yard of another major marine firm, Orams, and both said about 1000 jobs depended on work that is carried out there.

RNZ understands Site 18 is still not being considered as a location for bases. However, a long history of uncertainty over sites for the cup village has left the industry anxious as work continues behind the scenes.

Spending by visiting Superyachts is the largest single economic contributor from hosting the America's Cup, a report commissioned by the government says, worth an estimated $59.3 million to $175m.

That compares with $50.9 million to $101.8 million contributed by teams, including the defender Team New Zealand.

The report said there would also be ongoing medium-term benefits to the marine industry, not calculated in the Cup impacts.

Mr Hauser said the ability to have masts removed and serviced at Site 18 will influence how many superyachts visit Auckland.

"They are not going to come from the Mediterranean to New Zealand and back again - that's a trip around the world - if they can't get their masts out in New Zealand to get them checked," he said.

"They are just not going to do those sorts of miles without a good service and a good check."

Mr Hauser said he was not yet feeling confident that Site 18 would remain secure in the America's Cup process.

"I get the impression the marine industry is not being listened to at all," he said. "It feels like [people think] we're full of big wealthy superyachts and that we'll survive but that's far from true," he told RNZ.

"The marine industry has shrunk drastically and there's not many of us left."

RNZ Auckland Correspondent Todd Niall talks to Susie Ferguson on Morning Report: click here

To hear Mark Hauser's interview with Todd Niall also broadcast on Radio NZ click here

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