The Prime Minister and other Government ministers braved the mud at a central Auckland construction site this morning for an uneventful sod-turning ceremony.
It was to mark the beginning of construction for the New Zealand International Convention Centre, which is controversially backed by SkyCity.
Mr Key was joined by ministers Steven Joyce and Nikki Kaye for the ceremony at the Hobson Street site.
There was a strong police and security presence at the event, with staff guarding the gates in case of unwanted guests.
But despite strong public opposition to the convention centre and SkyCity, there were no protesters today much to Mr Joyce's relief, after being hit in the face with a sex toy by a protester on Waitangi Day.
"No sign so far of anyone throwing any objects, which is great," Mr Joyce joked ahead of the ceremony.
After a series of speeches, in which SkyCity was commended for hosting the recent signing of the TPP deal, Mr Key joined Mr Joyce and SkyCity officials for the sod-turning.
Mr Key says the $700 million project, which includes a new hotel, laneway and carparks, will bring an international market to Auckland, particularly in off-peak tourist seasons.
"Actually from a tourism perspective, it's a really important part of our offering.
"It's harder to get people to come here in August or September when maybe it's a little colder and a little wetter, and that's exactly what the convention centre will do," Mr Key said.
However, Opposition parties aren't convinced, with the Greens saying the start of construction is no cause for celebration.
"Over 8000 more people could be affected by problem gambling as a direct result of the SkyCity deal, according to the Government's own analysis. That's not something to celebrate," says Internal Affairs spokesperson Denise Roche.
As part of the deal, SkyCity is funding most of the convention centre in exchange for gambling concessions.
"The Government's relentless spin that the centre is 'free' ignores the enormous financial and personal cost that will be paid by New Zealanders," says Ms Roche.
Soil taken during the sod-turning ceremony was placed into a specially made waka huia, or treasure container, and blessed by Ngati Whatua kaumatua Bob Hawke.
Construction of the centre is expected to be completed in 2019.