Downtown stadium on agenda for Tauranga

By Peter White, John Cousins

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Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby wants to put the city on the map for national and international rugby fixtures by building a 15,000 to 18,000-seat stadium on the downtown's Domain.

His vision has already attracted support from some of the region's key sports people, including Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers.

Mr Crosby's announcement echoes long-standing frustration by sports fans with Baypark who complain it was never designed to be a venue for winter games such as rugby and soccer.

The lack of a suitable venue meant Tauranga has missed out on getting any Chiefs games next season, with the long list of lost opportunities headed by the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Mr Crosby intends to launch a public "conversation" about where to site the purpose-built stadium. He favours The Domain's lower fields, away from the No.1 field with its all-weather athletics track.

He suggested big savings could be made by shifting the under-utilised relocatable seating from Baypark to a new stadium. There were 18,000 seats at Baypark whereas speedway meetings seldom attracted more than 5000 spectators.

The big advantage of siting the stadium on The Domain was its proximity to downtown with its accommodation, parking and bars. Big games were played in the evenings or weekends.

Mr Crosby said it would also tie in with the rejuvenation of the CBD over the next five to 10 years, including redevelopments to get buildings up to earthquake standards and the planned international-standard hotel, conference centre and university campus.

"There are a lot of opportunities coming up and, as mayor, I want to have conversations with all the stakeholders."

He said there was no way the council would build the stadium. He preferred the approach taken by Bay Cricket where construction of the Bay Oval at Blake Park was a joint venture between the council, cricket and outside funders.

"The council should lead the way and not wait for others to come to us."

A 15,000 to 18,000 seat stadium was the optimum size and Mr Crosby liked how Napier's McLean Park continued to be used for local games. McLean Park featured an embankment at one end that opened up views across to Cape Kidnappers, similar to how he envisaged grandstands at The Domain would feature views across the embankment end to Mauao.

He said there were still a lot of unknowns such as whether it would fit and the geotechnics of such major earthworks and structures.

Mr Rogers said the rugby union was motivated to work with the council, private parties and the community to support a project with a strong business case. The stadium would need to be the right scale and size. He thought 15,000 seats would be about right to put up a strong case to attract events.

Revenue did not all have to come from high-profile events and there were other ways to make it sustainable. "It can't become another millstone around the city's neck."

The potential losers were the clubs that used The Domain's lower fields - Tauranga Sports rugby club and Otumoetai Cadets Cricket Club.

Tauranga Sports chairman Trevor Grainger declined to comment, saying it was the first time he had heard about the idea and it had not been discussed by the club committee. "We need to hear from the council."

No contact could be made with senior members of the cricket club, however, the Bay of Plenty Cricket Trust's general manager Kelvin Jones expected that Otumoetai Cadets would not be happy about losing their home on The Domain and would need to be rehoused.

Looking at the issue from a wider perspective, Mr Jones said it was amazing people were finally seeing the light. "It is a no-brainer. It is what should have happened years ago ... it will add vibrancy to the downtown area."

The chief executive of the council-owned organisation that runs Baypark, Gary Dawson, said it was great that the mayor was initiating such an important debate, including how a stadium would stack up with the city's other priorities, and what was the best size and concept.

Mr Dawson said he did not necessarily support taking or leaving Baypark's transportable seating but the council had to look at building a stadium in a cost-effective manner. "We have got to be creative about how we go about doing this ... Baypark is not appropriate for high level games and we have to find a solution."

City councillor John Robson said the need for a stadium was well accepted but the council had a lot of debt and some headwinds. "The big issue is that we need to find a way to produce wealth that pays for these things ... we are not exactly flush [with money]."

He said the council needed to take the community with them and it may require thinking outside the box.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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