Editorial: New stadium dream needs reality check

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A decade after a design for an Auckland waterfront stadium was buried amid howls of opposition, the idea has resurfaced, this time around a less precise "downtown" location. Photo / Nigel Marple
A decade after a design for an Auckland waterfront stadium was buried amid howls of opposition, the idea has resurfaced, this time around a less precise "downtown" location. Photo / Nigel Marple

A decade after a striking design for an Auckland waterfront stadium was buried amid howls of opposition, the idea has resurfaced, this time around a less precise "downtown" location. Initial reaction to the plan appears enthusiastic, though the case for - and against - a new stadium remains much the same. It is not as though Auckland lacks publicly-owned arenas used for a range of activities. The existing big assets - Albany, Western Springs, Eden Park and Mt Smart - do their job in all but one key respect: they don't make any money. Sooner or later the ratepayer purse will have to fund upgrades and reinvestment in these structures.

This is where space has reopened to resurrect the grand stadium dream, a national showpiece that could hold 50,000 fans, get used for all the big games and shows, and add in a spectacular way to the city's built attractions.

But where could it go, how would it be funded and, not least, do we really need it? A new arena would not necessarily sit on the waterfront, where its proposed location last time around aroused so much passion. Could it occupy, for instance, Victoria Park, or some of the reclaimed Wynyard Wharf land earmarked for residential projects? And let's toss Eden Park into the mix, the famous ground bang in the middle of suburbia and which sooner or later will need a whole lot more money to keep it in shape, on top of the hefty investment for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Chris Brooks, the new executive at Regional Facilities Auckland, a council unit that runs the city's stadiums, revived the debate with some measured remarks. An Australian with a solid financial and infrastructure background, he comes to the issue without baggage. He wants a stadium strategy for the short-, medium- and long-term.

This is a sound approach, though it runs the risk of being hijacked by special pleading or drowned out by shrill opponents. That will serve no-one's interests, least of all the city as a whole. Auckland should be confident enough to confront its stadium issues and rank the investment required alongside other spending demands.

Perhaps it offers an opportunity to look beyond ratepayers for the funding burden. Stadiums in the United States use local taxes, special bonds, tourist levies and private investment to finance the assets. If Auckland comes up with a national stadium, then what of a national lottery? The point is, creative approaches to funding such a significant project ought to be explored.

Ten years ago the waterfront stadium splintered because many Aucklanders felt it would rob them of access to their treasured harbour. Funds which could have been ploughed into building the arena instead went to Eden Park to make it match-fit for the World Cup. Was this the outcome everyone wanted? Probably not. An informed discussion could lead to a position where the city felt sufficiently informed and confident to make the call whether it really wants - and actually needs - a stadium for the ages.

- NZ Herald

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