A Federal Case


Why is it that everytime we get a new idea in Auckland, the debate soon turns to custard.

We’ve had Queens Wharf Debates 1-197 and still don’t know whether the sheds are staying or a new cruise ship terminal will emerge.

Now the moment someone suggests tarting up Federal St, the debate goes quickly downhill with people either saying the Casino is the Devil in disguise and must have satanic intentions with such a plan (Disclaimer: I don’t think so but have never been to the casino itself as I don’t like gambling and its social effects) or dear old Rudman in the old people’s Royal NZ Herald narrowing the debate to his obsession that everything has to have a theatre attached.

I asked 25 people in the city today where I could find Federal St. None of them looked like tourists or recent immigrants.

No one had a clue, including three sitting waiting for a bus outside SkyCity.

This is Federal St. It’s boring, not pedestrian friendly and merely a functional back alley for casino taxis and delivery vans.

Auckland's Federal St by SkyCity

So SkyCity has proposed to Auckland City that it

  • redevelops Federal Street
  • reconfigures the ground floor of SkyCity’s building
  • extend the existing conference facilities into the airspace over Federal Street.

The casino company will only undertake the work if all three components are agreed to by the council. They require the council’s consent as landowner to undertake the redevelopment of Federal Street and for an airspace lease and the upgrade proposal of Federal Street. But it has also made a confidential offer to fund the redevelopment of Federal Street.

You’ll notice Federal St is full of traffic, especially taxis. The proposal is to make Federal St a shared space.

Making the casino area & Federal St more pedestrian friendly

The win would be for pedestrians:

  • the traffic direction would change
  • there would be an upgrade of the pedestrian crossing facilities at both ends of the street
  • closure of the Sky City Casino car park entry on Federal St
  • reduced conflict between pedestrians and vehicles at the northern end of the street
  • wider pedestrian activity and vehicle free areas on both sides of the street
  • removal of coach parking within the street
  • an aim of 40% reduction in vehicle flows at the northern end of Federal Street.
  • Traffic flows on Federal Street between Victoria Street and Wellesley are predicted to reduce by 30% to 50% to just over 2,000 vehicles per day.

But the plan, being developed by Sky Tower architect, Moller Architects involves extend its convention centre by spanning Federal Street and providing an additional area of 684 square metres.

The underside of the structure will be 13 metres  above street level.

It begins about 64 metres in from Wellesley Street on its southern end and  finishes about 48 metres in with another 77 metres to the north on Victoria Street.

The plan is to do something different and artistic in the design.

Proposed SkyCity design for Federal St

And it happens to be about creating a bigger international convention centre, which is badly needed in Auckland.
It’s embarrassing how many times Aucklanders go to Australia for a convention that can’t be held here because we don’t have big enough international standard facilities.

APPA is the city’s “advisory group for public art” (How do I get on an advisory group for public transport and impress my friends?)

And APPA, in a submission to the council says:

“The proposed architectural form is an obstructing intervention in public space which would: Obliterate open sky-space, Block views of St Patrick’s Cathedral from the Wellesley Street and Mayoral Drive ends of Federal Street, Diminish the quality of the public domain, and Effectively privatise public space and set a very uncomfortable precedent in the city. “

It doesn’t like the design concept and states: A successful outcome would:  Express lightness and transparency,  need to be top of the game to ensure success, and need to be an inspired architectural statement.

It may be right. But this type of first reaction ferments negativity which will soon drown the debate, especially in media that thrive on conflict.

Expect at this rate, taxis to still be clogging unloved Federal St in years to come.

Except thankfully the Auckland City Council is enthusiastic. Good for it!

Even neighbouring Wellington doesn’t have an immediate outpouring of alarm bells everytime a city proposal is aired.  It has vigorous debates in a city that has lots of cultural-obsessed and heritage-obsessed citizens but still interesting things happen.




  1. rtc says:

    The council has already approved that this proceed so I wouldn’t be so negative.

  2. Jon C says:

    Its not me being negative. I want it to happen.
    But if you read the critics you would think the SKY is about to fall in.

  3. rtc says:

    The point is that unless this is done well a huge dark roof over Federal street could result in this being a lot worse than the current situation. This is not criticism but a debate that needs to be had. Furthermore, Skycity claim they want to install a piece of public art, they themselves have invited the criticism of what they plan to install.

    This is also not a one-sided idea from Skycity. Ludo et al has been working together with SkyCity to progress this idea but it still remains that part of Alfred street will be built over. This needs to be done well, otherwise, a shared space won’t make a difference.

  4. ingolfson says:

    Alfred Street = Federal Street after the makeover? ;-) I’m okay with that, we don’t have a federation anyway ;-)

    Like rtc, I wouldn’t call one advisory panel poo-pooing something a torrent of negativity. Especially since the urban design panel is in favour. And I’m giving up on Rudman anyway. Ludo likes it, that is a powerful stroke in its favour. And since private interests are involved, it is likely to fail or win a bit quicker than projects like Queen’s Wharf.

    In total, it is a good thing. Who cares about a bit of tunnel effect - as Jon said, it’s not exactly Domain Drive now.

  5. DanC says:

    If the tunnel as shown is colourful and done in an art-ie fashion then great! I used to work in the ASB tower and park at Sky City and that street does need re-think and these thoughts as mentioned are great. The Victoria Street / Federal Street intersection is a great place to hang out on a sunny lunch time and it could do with some more seating.

  6. Joshua says:

    rtc - “dark roof over Federal street could result in this being a lot worse than the current situation” how on earth could it be any worse than it is now? Have you been there? I mean it’s uncomfortable to walk down, it already feels dark and dingy, I just don’t think they could possibly make it any worse, so let them go for it it can only get better.

    I agree, Political Aucklanders are useless at making decisions, lets go for something out of the box!

  7. AR says:

    Nothing new. Typical Auckland.

  8. Cam says:

    A dark roof over fedral street?? Are we not just talking about a large skybridge here? I agree this is pathetic, as Joshua quite rightly says it would be huge achievment to actually make the street worse than it currently. It’s awful at the moment. I think this is a great idea and best of SkyCity are paying for it. People will always find something to complain about i suppose.

  9. Jeremy Harris says:

    My views:

    Federal St: Do it, essentially a free shared street, I don’t see the loss of overhead space as a critical thing…

    Queens Wharf Sheds: Ugly, off with their heads…


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