A badly disrupted Auckland’s CBD reeks of smoke from the International Convention Centre fire this morning, which is still raging on the roof after a night of scattered showers, gusty winds and a hailstorm. 

Sky City Entertainment told investors this morning they were still assessing the damage, but the fire would cause a “material delay” to the opening of the centre. Sky City said it was insured. Mayor Phil Goff said a Plan B was needed for the major APEC conference scheduled for November 2021.

The still under-construction centre was supposed to open in the second half of next year and was already over a year behind schedule. Mayor Phil Goff said its opening could now be delayed more than a year, if the building can be rebuilt, and that alternatives for APEC in November 2021 would have to be found. The $1 billion centre and attached hotel would have added 303 rooms and 6,672 square metres of convention space for up to 3,000 people.

Its upper levels are now in flames and its lower levels are flooded with water from over 30 fire trucks and the buildings own fire hydrant systems, which were in operation. Sky City has yet to detail the full effects on its business plans and Fletcher Building has also not commented on whether the building, which has already cost it hundreds of millions more than expected, could cost it more. Both of their share prices fell yesterday afternoon.

I write this from the Ibis Budget hotel at the lower end of Queen Street, which is still open, but much of the area around SkyCity is locked down, with the CBD’s key arteries of Hobson, Nelson and Wellesley St blocked. Buildings including the SkyCity Casino itself and hotels and buildings immediately surrounding the Convention Centre have been evacuated, including the TVNZ building next door.

TVNZ broadcast its morning show from its carpark. Hairdos were not done.

Auckland’s fire services and others from as far afield as Hamilton are still battling the fire, which broke out on the upper floors of almost completed $1 billion complex being built for Sky City Entertainment by Fletcher Building. A worker told Stuff a torch used to heat and seal waterproofing material started the fire on the roof around 1pm yesterday.

The already delayed centre was supposed to be open late next year, adding convention centre space and hotel rooms to an already supply-constrained market in time for the APEC conference in November 2021 and the America’s Cup from January to March 2021.

Auckland Transport advised commuters of significant disruptions to buses and Goff advised commuters and workers to stay away from the CBD. Firefighters said they had contained the fire, but it was not under control and was continuing to be fanned by gusty winds. Over 100 firefighters are on site and Goff told RNZ this morning they had sacrificed the roof to try to stop the fire spreading below the fifth level, where they have access to the building’s internal fire hydrant system.

“But the flammable material is the bitumen under the roofing and below the bitumen they have an insulation and noise suppressant material … that and the wood and the bitumen makes for a volatile ingredient for the fire spreading, and it certainly has spread, not withstanding the efforts of the firefighters who are doing a valiant job there,” Goff said.

The weather is expected to get worse. Metservice advised at 6.23am: “Showers, some possibly heavy and thundery with hail, becoming isolated afternoon. Strong southwest, gusting 100 km​/​h in exposed places.”

Plan B required

Goff said MFAT was looking at alternative options for APEC.

“APEC is due to be held in November of 2021, and while that sounds like a long way off, with the delays that were already taking place in the completion of the convention centre, and now the fire, you’ve got to be realistic and assume that an alternative plan B might need to be put in place in the event that the convention centre is not ready,” he said.

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