Taskforce needed to revitalise Auckland's CBD as tourists start to arrive, expert urges

A taskforce needs to be created to revitalise Auckland's city centre that's been left neglected for two years due to COVID-19. 

That's the call from one leading sector during a think-tank event in the City of Sails to look at the future path of Tamaki Makaurau after the economic hit of the pandemic. 

Queen Street used to be the beating heart of Auckland. Now, it's in a derelict state due to COVID-19.

"It's just really unpleasant," one person told Newshub.

"It's pretty gross and grotty," another added.

"Our CBD, in general, is quite dead," a third said.

It's just one issue a two-year crisis has created in the City of Sails, and one that was a topic of discussion at Auckland's Future, Now. 

"We are the growth engine of the country but that engine has been spluttering. We have struggled through COVID," said Nick Hill from Auckland Unlimited.

It's the third annual event involving business, economic, and youth leaders who put their minds together to unleash Auckland's potential as the city looks to bounce back from COVID-19. 

"Queen Street is one of those, I would say, the thing that is letting down Auckland's city centre at the moment," said Emma McInnes from Women in Urbanism Aotearoa.

And time is ticking to improve it, with less than 100 days until cruise ships arrive with international tourists. 

"Within 35 seconds of hitting Queen Street or going above the Viaduct, they will see 38 shops are shut and the homeless. This is the story they will be telling," said Troy Clarry from Accommodation Association New Zealand.

The city centre was hit the hardest over 22 months, with spending down 35 percent, contributing to the current state of the CBD. 

"Anyone looking at the city centre now would say it's not acceptable," said Mark Thomas from the Committee for Auckland.

Thomas wants those with skin in the game in the central city like landlords, developers, the City Mission, and government to band together to drive revitalisation. 

"A special purpose vehicle needs to be created to take charge and responsibility for getting our city centre back to the sort of city centre we all want it to be," Thomas said.

"Women, wāhine, women of colour, people who have a disability, we need a diversity of backgrounds of people coming together to change the city," McInnes added.

It's a city people are coming back to, according to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

"More people in town in the evenings will create a safer environment but we still need to work with police and other agencies that we can dispel the perception that it's not safe to be in the city centre," he said.

It's clear it won't just take one sector, but several to drive change.