James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Stadium has World Cup experience wrapped up

Everything has been planned to enhance fans' enjoyment, from food and beverages to easy access, writes James Ihaka.

Artist's impression of the new design for Eden Park. Photo / Supplied
Artist's impression of the new design for Eden Park. Photo / Supplied

In a scene from the 2001 movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe and his band of men run out into the Colosseum as a mob of Romans bay for their blood.

Shortly before several of them are hacked to death, they pause for a moment bewildered by the ancient monument's magnificent spectacle.

While the likelihood that players being fed to the lions at next year's Rugby World Cup 2011 opener between the All Blacks and Tonga are slim, chances are the fans and teams will find the new stadium just as breathtaking.

A year before the world's third biggest sports tournament and the $240 million revamp of New Zealand rugby's most-hallowed ground is nearing its October completion date.

It's had its share of controversies over who would foot the bill for the changes, the possibility of costs blowing out and recent accusations the stadium is leaky and the seats are too small.

But Eden Park chief executive David Kennedy is confident that not only will the redevelopment meet its deadline but fans' experience at the ground will rival, if not better, that of any other stadium around the world.

"It will be fantastic, especially with the temporary seating taking capacity to 60,000 people ... you could only imagine what it'd be like running out to that," he says.

"All the corporate facilities, getting in and out of the stadium, the food and beverage facilities, the transport ... we've got everything wrapped up."

So what exactly do you get for nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and years of work ?

Firstly, the mish-mash of stands that made Eden Park look more like a United Nations of rugby architecture than what is now arguably New Zealand's finest sports stadium are gone, mostly.

In their place is the new multi-tier South Stand, which seats 21,500 fans, 80 per cent of whom will be covered.

The stand, which features an ethylene tetrafluoroethylene facade, with 30 metre-high fern trusses, also holds 50 corporate boxes, a hosting lounge for 800 people, more than 500 toilets and media and team facilities.

The once-notorious eastern terraces have been replaced by an unroofed two-tier stand, that post-RWC 2011 will feature an acoustic barrier behind it to contain noise.

Meanwhile, an extension of the ASB Stand with a 2000 seat lower bowl means the Panasonic Stand makes a welcome exit.

Also gone are the dual lighting towers above the ASB Stand, replaced by grandstand lights that Mr Kennedy promises are fixed after having caused some headaches for rugby players and TV broadcasters.

Outside the stadium, work is under way to soften the concrete facade with landscaping.

But aesthetics aside, Mr Kennedy says perhaps the most noticeable difference for fans will be the ease of access to and from the ground.

There are now just four entry points - one plaza at each corner of the park - replacing the 27 gates fans had to clamour to in the past to get to their seats.

Inside, a large concourse runs around the stadium, which links to an existing one in the ASB Stand.

"What this does is take all the pedestrian movements off the footpath and the surrounding roads so you can get in at any gate and just walk around to wherever your seat is in the stand," says Mr Kennedy.

"It really takes all the hassle out of things, like trying to find which gate you have to be at. There will be a much easier flow of people in and out of the ground ... that's what a lot of this is about, making things easier for people."

Dotted along the concourse is Auckland's second biggest kitchen, run by Wembley Stadium's former executive chef.

There are also several new food and beverage areas which Mr Kennedy promises will be offering an upgrade on hot dogs, pies and chips.

"We will definitely provide a much broader range of offerings," he says.

Ensuring fans aren't missing out on any on-field action, the concourse also features 380 50-inch (125cm) plasma television screens.

These link to two 110 square metre video replay screens at the eastern and western ends of the ground.

"They're the biggest of those types of screens in New Zealand, actually they're slightly bigger than the ones at the MCG," says Mr Kennedy.

"The fans really aren't going to miss out on anything wherever they are in the ground."

While work on a bus hub, with up to 12 buses dropping off fans, won't be completed until after RWC 2011, the Kingsland railway station has been extended and upgraded with a second line. Fans can catch the train to Kingsland, cross Sandringham Rd and walk straight on to the concourse on Walters Ave.

Despite the number of changes that will mean a completely new Eden Park experience, Mr Kennedy says some things, including the West Stand, will remain.

"We are still here on Sandringham Rd and the park still has the same sense of occasion and sense of specialness it has always had and it will keep that."

Counting the cost

New Zealand Government - $190 million
Eden Park Trust Board - $12 million
NZ Rugby Union - $10 million
Auckland Regional Council - $10 million
ASB Community Trust - $6.5 million

Garden of Eden

* A new multi-tier 21,500 seat South Sand with 50 Corporate boxes, an 800 person reserve and club membership facilites and world class media and team services.

* An extension of the ASB Stand with a 2000 seat lower bowl (replacing the Panasonic Stand).

* A new, unroofed two-tier East Stand (replacing the eastern terraces) with 8600 capacity.

* New capacity of 60,000 spectators to be completed for Rugby World Cup 2011, up from 45,000 previously.

* Eden Park will hold 50,000 people in post RWC mode.

* Improved catering facilites.

* Two 110 square metre super screens and 380 50-inch plasma monitors.

* A transport hub including a drop-off zone and 12 bus waiting areas at the corner of Sandringham Rd and Reimers Ave.

* Improved access from four corner entry plazas.

* Lights relocated into the roofline to reduce light spill.

* Acoustic barriers to reduce noise levels during events.

- NZ Herald

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