Nick Sheehan: Waterfront facility must fit in with city's needs

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Learn from failures to see what works, writes Nick Sheehan who is currently site manager for one of the stadiums for the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup.
A waterfront stadium in Auckland needs to be the right fit, taking into account what has worked and what hasn't in other parts of the world. Photo / NZPA
A waterfront stadium in Auckland needs to be the right fit, taking into account what has worked and what hasn't in other parts of the world. Photo / NZPA

A waterfront stadium in Auckland needs to be the right fit, taking into account what has worked and what hasn't in other parts of the world.

I have steered stadium projects worldwide, including Stadium Australia in Sydney, Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the new Wembley Stadium, the Melbourne Docklands Stadium, Wimbledon and stadiums in South Africa, Brazil, China, USA, Europe and the Middle East.

There have been a few emotive red herrings thrown around on an Auckland waterfront stadium, such as costs as high as $1 billion, and this has not been helped by the Warren & Mahoney "design".

The Warren & Mahoney mock-ups first appeared weeks after Trevor Mallard first floated the idea, which was not long before the 2006 Fifa World Cup. The proposal looked suspiciously like the Allianz Stadium in Munich that was the centrepiece of that football tournament.

Simply transplanting a Bavarian building into an antipodean metropolitan location demonstrates the same level of practicality as Barry Crump taking Scotty's BMW sportscar off-roading.

Eden Park doesn't fit its purpose. It does not provide a cricket ground to ICC regulations, it is limited by the number of night events it can run, is isolated from accommodation and entertainment districts and the surrounding gentrified neighbourhood is suffocating any chance of it breaking even.

A new stadium needs to be kept busy. Rain or shine, day or night, summer or winter, cricket or Madonna, convention or monster truck, a large open-space arena has to pay its way.

Melbourne's Docklands Stadium was built on surplus railway yards close to the city's port and central railway station. It has a retractable roof, adjustable seating for a variety of uses, and a playing surface that can house international cricket matches, athletics events and U2-type large-stage concerts.

Rain or shine, day or night, summer or winter, cricket or Madonna ... a large open-space arena has to pay its way.

More importantly, Docklands Stadium has an audience capacity (56,347) and cost $516.5 million that is more suitable to Auckland's potential average attendance and budget.

Wembley (90,000 capacity, $1.5 billion cost), Stadium Australia (83,500 capacity, $700 million cost), Stade de France (81,338 capacity, $1 billion cost) and Yankee Stadium (54,251 capacity, $1.4 billion cost) are not good comparisons to what is suitable for Auckland. Those stadiums are large-scale, gold-plated venues with corporate facilities more like five-star hotels. Also, the industry has learned many lessons from the budget blowouts for Wembley and Stade de France.

For a waterfront arena, the City of Sails should expect a more appealing aesthetic and better connectivity. It should be something iconic like the Sydney Opera House. It is easily situated close to transport hubs. It needs an innovative design like New Plymouth's Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. It could reflect the harbour while minimising the stadium's visual profile.

Besides the favourable proximity to public transport hubs, Aucklanders' love of cars may require carparking levels below the stadium concourse and improved links to Grafton Gully.

It is useful to consider that other main centres in New Zealand, such as Wellington and Dunedin (and Christchurch, not by choice), have built new stadiums and converted old stadium sites into intensive retirement village residential developments.

Carisbrook was located next to the Hillside Railway Workshops, so sold for $7 million, and Athletic Park was Maori Tenths Trust land. Even under current planning rules, Eden Park's site has the potential for 250 single-dwelling or 400 or more mixed-housing urban lots with a market value of at least $300 million - more than the stadium's cost to develop.

Furthermore, the salvageable parts of Eden Park (lighting, seats, screens) should offset the cost of demolition.

Remember, there is no hurry to build a new stadium. There are no Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Rugby or Cricket World Cup deadlines to make rash decisions and complete by. With time not an issue, cost and quality can be achieved.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Nick Sheehan is an Auckland-born and trained chartered professional engineer, quantity surveyer and project manager. He is currently site manager for one of the stadiums for the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup.

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