COMMENT: The dream of a waterfront stadium has long captured the imagination of Aucklanders. An ambitious proposal for a Government-funded downtown sports venue was hotly debated, and eventually rejected, before the city hosted the 2011 Rugby World Cup. An upgraded Eden Park was chosen instead.
That ground is rich with history, and seems to be worth an extra few points on the scoreboard for the All Blacks, who haven't lost there since 1994.
However, the restrictions of Eden Park's suburban setting — which limits the number of night events the venue can host and has prevented it being used for other activities such as concerts — and the burden of future upgrade costs leaves a big question mark over the ground's future.
There will be more than a few Aucklanders kicking themselves over the missed opportunity of having a state-of-the art stadium bringing sport's colour, drama (and punters) to the city's waterfront. Mayor Phil Goff pledged to take a fresh look at a downtown stadium soon after his election in 2016, and a PwC report estimated it would cost between $1.1 billion and $1.5b.
Earlier this year, Auckland architectural firm Archimedia presented a grand vision for the container port, including inner-city beaches, parklands and a stadium.
Now, a group called the Auckland Waterfront Consortium has put forward another ambitious proposal — to build a 50,000-seat roofed stadium alongside a redeveloped Bledisloe Wharf. Under the plan, the venue would be sunk into the seabed to reduce obstruction of sea views and could be used for sport, cultural events and concerts.
The consortium — which includes Auckland-based construction, engineering, design and legal firms — aims to fund the project by knocking down Eden Park and developing housing and commercial premises on that site and Bledisloe Wharf.
The aim is that the entire project could be built without any need for council or government funding. The group have suggested the venue could be operated by the Eden Park Trust.
The plan raises obvious questions: How willing will Auckland Council and Ports of Auckland be to give up the land? Where will the car importing operations on Bledisloe Wharf be shifted to? What about consultation with Ngati Whatua? How would the public respond to any further port reclamation?
The consortium says it has already spoken to the mayor's office, Ports of Auckland and Government ministers, receiving a positive response. However, as Simon Wilson points out in his column today, the project will need a Mayor, a minister or a Prime Minister to champion the cause if the plan is to be successful.
The consortium intends to undertake a detailed study before putting together a final proposal.
There are many hurdles ahead, but if the feasibility study shows the project is viable, we should pursue it. Otherwise, Aucklanders might be kicking themselves again when another chance at a world-class waterfront stadium disappears over the horizon.