The New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) and next to it a five star, 300-room hotel build has moved a step closer to reality with the turning of the first sod on the site of the landmark Auckland project by Prime Minister John Key.

Pieces of earth from the ground beneath the 14,000 sqm site were placed in a waka huia and blessed. They will be held by the NZICC and incorporated into the completed building.

The ceremony follows eight weeks of demolition on the site of the two-storey convention centre and hotel, which is being developed by SkyCity Entertainment Group and built by Fletcher Construction under an agreement with the Crown.

The sod-turning paves the way for a much larger dig, the excavation of a 22m hole to prepare for the foundations and underground structure for what will be the largest purpose-built convention centre in the country.

In the first half of next year the NZICC and the Hobson Street hotel will begin to rise on the site.

The $700 million project, one of the largest in downtown Auckland since the Sky Tower, is creating an estimated 1000 jobs on site during the build plus an additional 2000 jobs in associated industries flowing on from the construction project. Once open, the NZICC and hotel will create more than 1000 jobs across the new entertainment precinct.

SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison said it was exciting to see the development of the NZICC now moving at pace.

“The landmark NZICC building, and next to it the five star, 300-room hotel and laneway with bars and restaurants, is an integral part of this city’s development; a $700 million investment in much-needed tourism infrastructure in downtown Auckland that will see the Victoria Quarter become an attractive and vibrant part of the city.”

When open in 2019, the NZICC will be capable of hosting conventions of around 3000 people, and one-off events of up to 4000 people on the exhibition floor.

“The NZICC will deliver real returns for New Zealand, not only in job creation and delegate spend but in the sharing of knowledge,” NZICC general manager Simon Jamieson said.

Fletcher Building chief executive Mark Adamson said the company has made great progress since beginning work in December, with 11 of the 16 buildings on the site having been demolished.