Jaw-dropping concepts for an iconic new national stadium have been pitched to Auckland Council, proposing a state-of-the-art arena be submerged into the city's waterfront.
A portfolio of spectacular designs can be revealed from documents delivered to the office of Auckland Mayor Phil Goff last month. The Herald on Sunday has obtained them through the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act [LGOIMA].
Dubbed The Crater, the idea centres on a subterranean multi-events venue, inverting conventional design by building below ground rather than above.
Created by Auckland design and marketing figure Phil O'Reilly, three potentials factor in a core concept of a sunken bowl-type arena, as well as renderings of a roofed version. A third concept incorporates new cruise ship terminals that would flank the facility, although O'Reilly said the general idea could also work inland if the waterfront was dumped as a location.
Communications through Goff's office, released through the LGOIMA, show O'Reilly submitted the artist impressions to the office of the Mayor on March 15, accompanied by a written proposal.
O'Reilly said as far as he is aware, the submerged venue would be the first of its kind anywhere in the world and was a chance for Auckland to build an iconic landmark that would be recognised the world over - but in keeping with Auckland's natural volcanic landscape.
"We always do something derivative that is quite cool but not quite up to it. This is an opportunity to do something that is truly unique," O'Reilly said.
Although not as large in scale, likely between 30,000-50,000 capacity, O'Reilly said a truly cutting-edge design could see the Kiwi venue punch way above its weight and become as recognised as some of the most famous on Earth.
"You've got to think outside the box. Why not put it into the harbour?"
O'Reilly said his ideas have not been formally costed, but conversations with industry experts have him adamant that digging down is cheaper than building up.
"From my discussions, because there is no need to build an above-ground structure, there are no architectural issues - or costs associated to that," he said. "It would be cheaper to significantly cheaper, and Aucklanders would love that."
The safety of a stadium sunk into open water is also an obvious concern. But O'Reilly was confident rising sea levels as well as natural disasters could be handled.
"I would always compare other infrastructure, particularly like Britomart, that's a great example that has tens of thousands of people going through it each week and is below sea level," he said.
O'Reilly he'd had no word back from Goff's office beyond an "automatic reply" to his email.
Communications released under LGOIMA show Goff's office forwarded O'Reilly's pitch to Council's venues arm, Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA), whose chief executive Chris Brooks responded, acknowledging receipt.
An initial study has been commissioned by RFA to examine whether Eden Park should be replaced by a new stadium somewhere in downtown Auckland.
An RFA spokesman said that report, which is being prepared by global accounting and advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, "should be through to the mayor sometime within in the next 5-6 weeks".
When asked for comment on The Crater, RFA said it won't be considering any specific stadium designs or concepts until a strategy is settled.
"As we have previously announced, RFA has engaged professional advisers to work with it on a pre-feasibility study to determine the viability of establishing a purpose-built National Football Stadium (NFS) located in the central city," a spokesman said.
"The pre-feasibility will determine the viability of central city locations and business scope for a potential stadium."
Goff has previously said Auckland could not afford a white elephant, adding the 50,000-seat Eden Park was limited to 21 night events and could need another $250 million spent on it over the next 15 years.
A spokesman for Goff's office said "while the Mayor appreciates being contacted, he doesn't believe the Crater concept is a practical solution for Auckland".
In March last year, rich-lister and Vodafone Warriors owner Eric Watson pledged to invest in a new stadium for downtown Auckland, believing there were "benefits for Auckland".
Watson also revealed he had already approached other potential investors.
Talking to the Herald on Sunday, Watson welcomed O'Reilly's crater concept, as he eagerly awaits the upcoming PwC report.
"I understand the PwC Feasibility Study is not far off but in the meantime it's great to see options for how a waterfront stadium could work," Watson said.
He said he would support a location that "stacks up financially and is 'the best option' in terms of a range of factors".
That included transport and parking options, commercial opportunities, multi-use options of the venue and "visual appearance".
"Ultimately the location and design that ticks as many boxes and meet as many needs as possible will ultimately be the best option for the city. It will be interesting to see what the PwC Feasibility Study recommends."
AUCKLAND'S STADIUM SAGA: A DECADE-LONG DILEMMA
•Government offers to build a waterfront stadium in 2006 for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
• The plan doesn't go ahead and Eden Park is instead redeveloped with a $256m upgrade to make it the tournament's centrepiece.
• The debate flares up again in 2016 after officials questioned the future of Eden Park and Goff pushed the railway site in his successful mayoral campaign.
• Goff cites $250 million would need to be spent on Eden Park over the next 15 years to maintain it.
• Meanwhile debate rages over how to use the city's other stadiums - notably North Harbour Stadium, Western Springs and Mt Smart - and how sports should be catered for, including rugby, football, cricket, speedway and rugby league.
• Rich-lister and Warriors owner Eric Watson offers to help fund a new downtown stadium, which would be the Warriors' new home.
• Auckland Council commissions a major report into the city's stadium strategy. The report is due to hit the Mayor's desk in the coming months.