The idea of a downtown sports stadium for Auckland will not go away. New mayor Phil Goff has wasted no time reviving the idea, suggested the logical site would be former railway land next to Vector Arena. That location undoubtedly would be more generally acceptable than the waterfront site suggested by his colleague in the previous Government, Trevor Mallard, for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
A stadium in the vicinity of Vector Arena would not be the visual monster on piles in the harbour that Mallard envisaged. But despite the overwhelming public opposition to that offer at the time, and its rejection by the Auckland Regional Council, many continued to lament a missed opportunity, particularly as the Government was going to put up the money. Instead the city and the Government put a great deal of public money into upgrading Eden Park, providing the multi-level South Stand.
Evidently the stadium will need a further $250 million spent on it over the next 15 years and Goff would sooner sell the land to put the money towards a new stadium in the city centre.
It is an idea that deserves serious consideration, despite the waste of facilities so recently built at Eden Park. The public knew when finance was committed to the upgrade that it was building a stadium too big for just about any event besides a rugby test. Its capacity was dictated by the International Rugby Board's requirements for the World Cup.
The ground's suburban location also limits its use. Goff thinks the city cannot afford to maintain a 50,000-seat facility that can be used on no more than 21 evenings a year. A downtown replacement would probably have a capacity of 30,000-40,000 seats, a retractable roof, and be used by a number of sports besides rugby, as well as concerts and other events. Goff thinks its $1 billion price tag could be largely funded by the Government and private sponsorship, as well as the sale of Eden Park's prime suburban real estate, worth perhaps $300 million.
The Government would probably expect the Auckland Council to match any contribution from national taxpayers but otherwise, the idea may be financially realistic, and an all-weather stadium for rugby, league, football and cultural events in the central city would be a boon to Auckland. A venue within walking distance of the city's restaurants, bars and main public transport hub would save patrons having to find their way to and from Mt Eden, save Mt Eden residents the annoyances of 50,000 people thronging their streets in high spirits before and after a game, and save the council the cost of providing additional public transport to and from events there.
The only regret would be for the loss of Eden Park as an institution. It is known everywhere in the world rugby is played and the All Blacks have a particularly fine record there, which they added to on Saturday night when the park saw them exceed all previous unbeaten sequences among the top echelon of teams. But southern rugby fans had the same attachment to Carisbrook and it made way for Dunedin's covered stadium. A more versatile and conveniently located venue in Auckland could eventually be inevitable.