A $700 million stadium on Auckland's waterfront is believed to be the Government's choice for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The Cabinet will decide next week on the premier venue for the cup, and seems likely to turn its back on rugby's traditional home at Eden Park.
The Herald has learned from three sources that a report going to the Cabinet on Monday favours a waterfront stadium, partly over Bledisloe Wharf and partly over water towards Marsden Wharf, a short walk from the bottom of Queen St.
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One source said the stadium could be based on the 66,000-seat Allianz Stadium in Munich, Germany, which is wrapped in translucent material that can be illuminated in different colours. The 50m stadium was built for this year's soccer World Cup.
Eden Park Development Committee chairman Rob Fisher said today that if Auckland Rugby moves to the new stadium there would be no use for Eden Park, though it would keep going until 2011.
He said Auckland cricket would need to move to a new ground and Eden Park would probably file for mixed-use zoning, demolishing the ground and setting up commercial and residential buildings.
Fisher is also concerned the venue would not be built in time for the World Cup. (Listen to Rob Fisher)
North Harbour Stadium Chief Executive Brendon O'Connor said any waterfront plan would be horrendously expensive.
He is also worried about the economic viability of a stadium in that location, believing North Harbour could be beefed up to become a national stadium for between 30 per cent and 35 per cent of the cost and says it is just 15 minutes from Auckland's CBD.
Prime Minister Helen Clark and Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard strongly support a waterfront stadium to showcase New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup and to aid Auckland's goal of becoming a world-class city.
There is also strong public backing for a waterfront stadium. More than two-thirds of nearly 200 people who sent emails to the Herald in one day in September said Eden Park's day had passed and a new waterfront stadium would be a showcase for the city and the nation.
Last month, Mr Mallard expanded work, led by Ministry of Economic Development officials, on waterfront options to satisfy concerns about the ability to build a stadium from scratch on the waterfront and address the effect on Ports of Auckland's container operations.
A new stadium would require 6.2ha and would cut into the 14ha Bledisloe Wharf, the third busiest container terminal in the country, which handled 220,000 containers last year. The project would involve driving hundreds of piles through reclaimed land over the wharf and seabed.
Mr Mallard would not discuss last night what would be suggested to the Cabinet and was still refusing to comment today.
He is expected to announce the decision next Friday.
"I have not received a final report and there are still several live options," the minister said.
The Government has been investigating waterfront sites since mid-September. Other options considered by officials doing the research include North Harbour Stadium and Mt Smart Stadium, but there have only ever been two serious contenders - Eden Park and the waterfront.
The Eden Park Trust Board has mounted an eleventh hour offensive to promote its $320 million upgrade plan for the Sandringham park instead of the waterfront option.
Board chief executive John Alexander said the waterfront option involved risks with public money, uncertainty about a waterfront site and the availability of land and the equipment needed to deliver it in time.
He also questioned the "open chequebook approach to it".
Eden Park was the cheapest option, could be delivered on time and had better transport options with roads on four boundaries, rail and a planned bus terminus that could be used outside stadium hours.
The board made public a "private and confidential" report from its economic consultants, Horwath Asia Pacific, saying a waterfront stadium would not increase the estimated $240 million boost to the Auckland economy from the Rugby World Cup and was "highly unlikely" to produce greater long-term economic benefits than a redeveloped Eden Park.
Another board report, from consultants WT Partnership, said a 60,000-seat waterfront stadium would cost between $612 million and $767 million, excluding land and relocation costs of up to $150 million.
Government officials are believed to have costed the waterfront stadium at between $600 million and $700 million.
It is not known how the Government would pay for a waterfront stadium, but one source said it "would not involve rates".
Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said a national stadium on Bledisloe Wharf was achievable but in danger of being derailed if Ports of Auckland and its owner, the Auckland Regional Council, continued playing ducks and drakes with waterfront assets.
"The Ports have wasted time resisting public opinion on the Tank Farm waterfront development to the west and we can't afford the same to happen in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup," Mr Swney said.
The ports company and the ARC would not comment.
November 2005: New Zealand wins 2011 Rugby World Cup hosting rights. Government and Rugby Union tell International Rugby Board that Eden Park will be upgraded at a cost of up to $160 million to provide 60,000 seats.
June 30 2006: Eden Park Trust Board announces plans for $320 million upgrade.
September 12: Trevor Mallard says Government is evaluating waterfront stadium sites as well as Eden Park. Decision to be made in mid-October.
October 13: Mallard extends waterfront work for three to four weeks.
November 6: The Cabinet will make its decision.
November 10: Public announcement.
- additional reporting: Newstalk ZB