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Sky World is getting stinkier.
A distinctive smell eminates from Sky World’s front doors. (Photo treatment: Archi Banal)

OPINIONBusinessJuly 5, 2023

The latest development in the Skyworld saga? It stinks of piss now

Sky World is getting stinkier.
A distinctive smell eminates from Sky World’s front doors. (Photo treatment: Archi Banal)

Queen Street’s ageing entertainment centre is getting more derelict by the day. Will someone step up at the last minute to save it?

“Expect it all,” boasts the plans. “Significant updates are being made to the centre, with works expected to be completed in early 2023.” Also: “We invite you to become part of Auckland’s new entertainment precinct.” New tenants are being sought for the place with the faded signs in the window that promise: “Something awesome is coming.” They’ve been that way for years. 

Announced last year with a glossy brochure and several news stories, the plans promised a huge and necessary facelift for Skyworld, Queen Street’s ageing entertainment centre. Once the central city’s main attraction, it’s now fallen into disarray with just the movie theatre, bowling lane and video arcade left standing. The food court is long gone. Dozens of tenants have left the building.

An artist's impression of what Sky World could look like.
An interior bathed in natural light: Skyworld reimagined as the On Q entertainment centre. (Photo: Supplied)

These bright, bold plans promised to usher in a new era. Huge wraparound digital screens face Aotea Square and Queen Street. Modern new frontages offer a warm welcome and encourage visitors inside with glass panels bathing them in natural light. The complex’s new vibe would offer “greater exploration and dwell time”.

This is important. Auckland’s central city is bouncing back nicely after its post-Covid problems, with increased patronage and businesses returning to the CBD. In 2025, the City Rail Link station opening next to Skyworld’s 291-297 Queen Street site will deliver tens of thousands of potential users to its doors every day. Skyworld can and should make the most of this opportunity.

The plans promise to do exactly that. Along with several artists’ impressions of the refurbished and redesigned building, a new name and logo was unveiled. Skyworld, the entertainment hub that opened with great fanfare in 1999 and became a mecca for many across the 2000s, before falling into disarray in recent years, would be replaced with a new look under a new name: “On Q”.

An artist's impression of a new-look Sky World.
A huge digital display board overlooking Aotea Square is part of a potential Skyworld redesign. (Photo: Supplied)

In reality, none of those On Q plans have, at least visibly, come to fruition. The deadline of “early 2023” has passed. Yes, some small interior changes have been made, with the food court sealed off, scaffolding visible inside the front doors, and the bottom floor appearing to be cleared out.

But Skyworld was quietly listed for sale on Trade Me in March, and it’s still listed today. The page has had just 802 views.

The listing posits Skyworld as a “rare” investment opportunity “to create significant income and substantial value by either re-establishing, re-positioning or re-developing this central CBD icon”. It doesn’t mention just how much money would need to be spent to return it to its former glory, but the building’s former architect, Ashley Allen, has previously told me it would be in the vicinity of $15-20 million.

None of the listed real estate agents contacted – Nilesh, Ranesh, Jonathan, Blair and Erin – were available for comment on this story. The building’s manager, Sasha Lee, also didn’t return a request for comment. I didn’t bother trying to contact the building’s owner, James Kwak. Across many years of trying, including pinning a desperate pink Post-It note to his office door, I haven’t heard a peep out of him. No one has: he’s only ever granted one brief media interview.

the reimagined front entrance for Sky World.
A bold new vision for Skyworld: the reimagined front entrance for On Q. (Photo: Supplied)

So, I don’t know what interest there’s been in the place. I don’t know if there have been any offers on Skyworld, and how much they might be for. (Auckland Council’s 2021 valuation is for $54 million.) I don’t know if it’s been crickets, or if the “Sold” sign is going up on the place any day now.

All I have to go on is what the place looks (and smells) like right now.

I recently set foot inside Skyworld for the premiere of the new Indiana Jones film. The front steps were gloomy and damp, and I had to pick my way carefully down the slippery stairs. On the left, the former home of Burger King was boarded up. On the right, Carl’s Jr  – previously Borders – is closed and covered in graffiti.

It was a surprise when the front doors opened. These days, it always is: there barely seems to be a light bulb working in the place. It’s there that it hit me, Skyworld’s bleak new development. Underneath the broken movie sign that screams “DARKOP & EEEEEE”, there is an unmistakable smell. People have been using Skyworld’s subterranean entranceway as their toilet.

The front entrance and logo of Skyworld.
Skyworld’s original logo remains visible at the complex’s front entrance. (Photo: Chris Schulz)

If that’s what it’s come to, perhaps it’s apt. (According to the hosts of the podcast Out the Gayte, Skyworld’s actual toilets were sullied in a different way during that Indiana Jones premiere.) But it’s still a mighty fall from grace, and the situation still makes me sad, and mad. For all its faults and its freaky bits, Skyworld’s legacy as a Queen Street icon could and should be celebrated.

It deserves so much more than becoming a late night latrine. I’ve asked this question before, so I’ll ask it again: Is there not someone with several dozen million dollars spare willing to do something about this?

Keep going!