Fire damages SkyCity Auckland convention centre

SkyCity Entertainment Ltd.’s landmark international convention centre in downtown Auckland has been severely damaged and its future is uncertain after a massive fire ripped through the NZ$700 million centre and associated five-star hotel.

The fire which started nearly 24 hours ago on the top floor of the seven-story complex is still ablaze after nearly a hundred firefighters fought it yesterday afternoon and through the night and continue again today.

Much of downtown Auckland is closed off and workers are being told to stay home after thick black toxic smoke blanketed the area.

Ross Taylor, the head of Fletcher Construction, the main contractor for the project, wouldn’t speculate about whether the whole building would need to be demolished and work begin again from scratch.

He told a news conference in Auckland this morning that the priority was to put the fire out. The top floors of the convention centre are still ablaze nearly 24 hours after the fire first started. It’s believed the blaze started after cutting equipment ignited some flammable materials.

Workers were evacuated and later staff and customers from the various SkyCity businesses in the precinct were also evacuated yesterday afternoon followed by staff in adjacent buildings in downtown Auckland.

Mr Taylor said there would be an investigation about the cause and a safety assessment. The structure of the building would then be reviewed, as “there may well be heat damage to the structural steel.”

The third step would be to make the site safe and then” we work out where to go to next.”

SkyCity Managing Director Graeme Stephens said it was impossible to assess either the extent of the damage, the likely delay or the economic impact on the company and the city at this stage.

However, he said that SkyCity hoped to reopen its hotels and casino and associated businesses tomorrow afternoon “if the fire is out by that time.”

Mr Taylor said the damage to the convention centre seemed to be mainly on levels five six and seven, but there would likely be considerable water damage on the lower levels.

Both companies have confirmed that they have project contract and public liability insurance to cover the event.

The fire is a huge blow to SkyCity, the economy of Auckland city and the convention business. Ironically it began just a couple of hours after SkyCity and Fletcher executives made a detailed tour of inspection of the constriction with Graeme Stephens saying he left “feeling buoyed and excited.”

SkyCity has bookings at the centre from March 2021 but major international conferences including an APEC CEOs meeting scheduled for November 2021 may be cancelled.

The NZ$700 million International Convention Centre and associated five-star hotel were already many months behind schedule, and Fletcher have paid SkyCity nearly NZ$40 million in liquidated damages for the delays. Fletcher Construction and SkyCity had agreed to a new completion date of fourth quarter 2020. This is now clearly in jeopardy, although the extent of any further delay is unknown at this point.

Shares in SkyCity which had been hovering around NZ$4, down from a year high of $4.10 on 22 April, closed 11 cents down at $3.87 yesterday and slipped a further 7 cents this morning.