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Skyworld is up for sale. Image: (Image: Getty/Tina Tiller)

BusinessNovember 8, 2021

Something is happening at Skyworld

Skyworld is up for sale. Image: (Image: Getty/Tina Tiller)

Are long-awaited renovations to Tāmaki Makaurau’s ageing entertainment hub finally under way?

Doors are padlocked shut, shops sit still and empty, posters promising “Something Awesome is Coming” are sun-bleached and peeling, and a broken movie sign above the front entrance advertises two films from 2019: Jojo Rabbit and Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

At first, a walk around the outside of Auckland’s Metro Centre, a beloved but ageing central city entertainment hub, seems to confirm that the building remains in limbo, a shadow of its former self.

Like many central Tāmaki Makaurau destinations, Skyworld – a maze of empty shops, skypaths, stairs and dead ends – remains closed to comply with Covid-19 protocols. That means the businesses inside, including the Odyssey Sensory Maze, Event Cinemas housing the country’s only iMax screen, the GameOn Arcade, and MetroLanes, the tenpin bowling experience with an underused deck, are also shut.

The closed sign is up at Queen Street’s Skyworld building (Photo: The Spinoff)

Those who peek a little closer might be led to believe that changes are afoot. At least one of those isn’t good: OKG, a popular dessert cafe offering diners hot chocolates, Mövenpick ice creams and other sweet treats, has moved out to a new location in Newmarket.

That leaves the Chinese eatery Yang Guo Fu as the building’s final food tenant.

At its peak, diners were offered dozens of options: cheaper dishes from the popular ground floor food court, including Malaysian stir fry at Uncle Man’s and Indian at Four Seasons. For those wanting something a little more special, at least 12 restaurants were just a short walk up the stairs, where options included Italian, sushi, a bistro and a popular Coffee Club cafe.

Look past the closed signs, press your nose up to the glass doors and stare inside, and you might see other changes that appear to be more positive. Construction equipment can be seen dotted around the now deserted food court.

Plastic wrap covers the stairs and temporary walls appear to have been erected, suggesting some kind of renovation or rejuvenation work is under way.

Plastic wrap and construction equipment can be seen through Skyworld’s doors (Photo: The Spinoff)

If so, it’s been a long time coming. The building’s future has been a source of much speculation since two major features were published in June: The Spinoff’s An adventure every time: From Skyworld’s glitzy launch to its bleak present, and Metro magazine’s  A Quiet Place — The sad fate of the IMAX Centre. Both examined at the building’s origins as a central city adult playground featuring popular destinations Planet Hollywood, Borders and Burger King, then covered its diminished status, abandoned by almost all of its tenants.

A request for comment about the renovation work to JNJ Holdings, the company that owns and operates Skyworld, went unanswered. JNJ’s owner, James Kwak, is notoriously private and to date has granted just one interview, to Newshub reporter Simon Shepherd in 2017, around the time Skyworld was deemed a fire safety hazard by Auckland Council.

Auckland Council told The Spinoff a warrant of fitness for the building was applied for, and processed, on August 24, the day it was due to run out. That allows Skyworld to remain in operation until the same time next year.

Temporary walls appear to have been erected inside Skyworld (Photo: The Spinoff)

The ground floor renovation work doesn’t appear to be the complete overhaul the building desperately needs, something Skyworld’s original architect, Ashley Allen, suggests might cost up to $20 million. At least three different architects have been engaged to sketch out future plans, which include rooftop dining options, a floating bar in the atrium, a giant neon red digital wraparound screen, and a huge outdoor elevator capable of taking 50 people at a time.

But it is some kind of progression, and that will be welcome news to fans of the building, those who still visit, wander around and remember Skyworld in its prime.

The other good news? Outside, ripped, photocopied posters advertise the return of the Lost in Time mini-golf experience, located in the building’s basement.

Who’s up for a touch of prehistoric putt-putt when we’re in level two?

Golf, anyone? (Photo: The Spinoff)

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