Downtown looks to San Fran for cues

10:49 AM Saturday July 26, 2014 Anne Gibson

Precinct Properties, with consent for a 41-level Auckland waterfront tower on its Downtown Shopping Centre site, took a team to San Francisco last month to study a new 62-level waterfront skyscraper rising above an underground railway there.

Scott Pritchard, Precinct chief executive, said the team, including a designer, visited and studied the Salesforce Tower, one of the tallest structures west of the Mississippi and said to be spurring on the "Manhattanisation" of the United States city as it rises.

Pritchard said there were similarities between Precinct's plans between Queen Elizabeth II Square and Lower Albert St and Salesforce as well as similarities between the San Francisco railway construction and Auckland's $2.86 billion City Rail Link which will run beneath Precinct's new tower.

"The visit confirmed and reinforced a lot of what we're doing and the direction we're heading in," he said after a video interview about the scheme.

"When we bought it - and what we've learned over the last year - is that the site has much greater potential for public space, retail and the ability to create very much a new hub for Auckland City," Pritchard said.

The railway line beneath the San Francisco tower was deeper and bigger than Auckland's City Rail link and the tower was taller than planned but the parallels were striking. "We spent a lot of time looking at what they're doing. The most important thing for us is how people will flow through," he said, referring to the Auckland project's links to Britomart, the Ferry Terminal and other key sites.

Internal stud heights of 2.9m were of particular interest, higher than the standard 2.7m in many of Precinct's buildings, he said. Salesforce's studs were higher because of the size of floorplates and the need to bring more natural light into the tower, he said.

"There's a general shift in the US to higher ceilings," he said.

Precinct expects to release images of its plans towards the end of the year and hopes to start building in 2016.

One controversial aspect is the development's approval in principal from a majority of councillors that it can buy a 2000sq m, $60 million section of Queen Elizabeth II Square. Conditions of the sale require Precinct to reinstate Little Queen St - which was closed in the 1970s - provide potential rooftop space, a pedestrian link to a new bus facility on lower Albert St as well as cash.

The business backs plans for Quay St in front of its HSBC Tower but Pritchard indicated an appetite for changes to Lower Albert St, which he said was an unattractive asphalt strip.

Planner Joel Cayford has spoken out against Precinct's plans and asked council for information about the consent lodged by former owner Westfield, allowing the tower to rise.

-NZ Herald