The future of Mt Smart Stadium and North Harbour stadiums is up in the air with the head of Auckland Council's new sporting and economic agency saying the city only needs one rectangular football stadium.
Auckland Unlimited chief executive-elect Nick Hill said solving the long-running stadium strategy will probably involve going to some "uncomfortable places".
Hill talked about the city's unresolved stadium strategy in an interview with the Herald on the creation of Auckland Unlimited, the result of a merger of Ateed and Regional Facilities Auckland.
The Ateed boss, who will earn $506,000 a year when Auckland Unlimited comes into being on December 1, expressed strong support for Eden Park, which is owned by a private trust.
He said Eden Park will be around for the next 10 years and supports the Eden Park Trust's resource consent application to stage rock concerts as of right.
Asked about the future for council-owned Mt Smart and North Harbour stadiums, Hill said: "I don't know what the future is for them. I haven't gone into that."
Hill's position on concerts differs to that of the outgoing Regional Facilities chief executive Chris Brooks, who opposed the trust's application in a draft submission not presented at a hearing before independent commissioners on the application last week.
In the submission, Brooks said concerts at Eden Park would lead to growing losses for ratepayers at Mt Smart and Western Springs, job losses at the council venues and no net gain in concerts for the city.
The rationale for Hill's backing of Eden Park is "what's best for Auckland".
"I think Eden Park having more ability to host concerts and more capacity to be used is a good thing for Auckland.
"If that has a negative commercial and financial consequence for council then council needs to deal with that. But we start from the principle of what is right for Auckland," he said.
Mt Smart Stadium is home to the Warriors rugby league team and the franchise holds a lease until 2028. North Harbour Stadium, built at Albany in 1997, is the home for North Harbour Rugby and upgraded in 2019 to become home of the Tuatara baseball team.
Mt Smart is also the city's leading concert venue, having hosted U2, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, the Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift.
Both stadiums are on council land zoned for recreation purposes - which makes it very unlikely the land would be sold for housing or commercial purposes.
Mayor Phil Goff, who began his mayoralty in 2016 with grand plans for a $1 billion downtown stadium, now believes Eden Park will be the preeminent stadium location in Auckland for at least another decade.
"Given the council's financial position due to Covid-19, the prospect of building any new stadiums in the next 10 years is remote because other infrastructure requirements take priority," he said.
"It will be important for Eden Park to be more closely integrated with council-owned facilities and to get better utilisation from the stadium for multi-sport activities.
"Council is entering into talks with the Eden Park Trust board to find better ways of integrating the use of venues in Auckland for concerts," said Goff.
Last year, the council bailed out Eden Park to the tune of $63 million, which included a $10m no-strings grant for immediate maintenance. This followed a report by EY, painting a dire financial picture for the stadium.
Albany councillor John Watson said having just one rectangular football stadium would be purely a financially driven decision.
Eden Park was the right stadium for major rugby and cricket events - but it would be incredibly short-sighted to do away with North Harbour and Mt Smart stadiums, he said.
With Auckland's population heading towards 1.7 million people, Watson said the notion of one big stadium did not take into account the needs of second-tier sports, which required smaller venues, home ground advantage and a local atmosphere for fans.
In addition to resolving the stadium strategy, which has floundered since 2012, Hill wants to resurrect the city's battered cultural and tourism sectors and grow the economy in the post-Covid world where there is less money available.
"That will force us to make some really hard choices," he said.