It's 12 years since Auckland politicians rejected a waterfront stadium for the Rugby World Cup. Can we do it this time?
As Mayor Phil Goff succinctly put it: "There are a lot of hurdles." He's not kidding, this is a hugely ambitious project, fraught with political, financial and wider city risks. The stadium consortium has wisely gone out to win the hearts and minds of Aucklanders to bring politicians to the table. The project will only come off with some heavy lifting from Auckland Council and the Government. Over the next 12 to 18 months, the consortium will test the technical, engineering and financial feasibility of the project. If it stacks up, and it's a big 'if", it will seek a lead developer to first build the stadium and then develop Bledisloe Wharf and Eden Park for housing and commercial purposes to pay the estimated $1.8 billion cost of the stadium.
Who are the key players?
Property valuer Dave Wigmore and lawyer Michael Sage, who are heading the Auckland Waterfront Consortium, are not big names you would associate with a project of this size. Behind them are a group of professional service companies who have been planning, designing and costing the stadium over 18 months. They have a solid and well-presented proposal warranting serious consideration. To move forward they need the backing of Mayor Phil Goff, a majority of councillors, and the Government. The Eden Park Trust Board is clearly uninterested in playing ball and will fight the same fight it did in 2006 to stay put. Ditto Ports of Auckland. The port company is starting work next year on a huge car-handling building on land the consortium wants for housing. Ngati Whatua, another key player, is keen on a new downtown stadium, but wants a discussion about where is the best place, including railway land it owns in the city.
What needs to happen to free up Eden Park and Bledisloe Wharf?
If the consortium has any chance of turning a dream into reality, it needs to fund the project by knocking down Eden Park and developing Bledisloe Wharf for housing and commercial purposes. This will require a political solution. Eden Park is managed by the Eden Park Trust Board, which has its own act. The beneficiaries of the park are Auckland Rugby and Auckland Cricket. Changing this set up would require a change in legislation. Getting access to about 15ha of port land requires moving the new and used car business to another location - the subject of studies and politics, but nothing firm. Issues of who pays to move the cars and a reduced port dividend to Auckland Council have to be factored in.
Is it true the stadium can be built at zero cost to ratepayers and taxpayers?
No. Giving up port land owned by the people of Auckland is a significant cost. There is also the cost of moving part of the port and a reduced dividend to council.
Who will own and operate the new stadium?
The consortium plans to hand over the keys to the stadium, possibly to a reconstituted Eden Park Trust Board, without any debt. Based on modelling, it believes it will be feasible for the trust to operate a cash flow neutral business. Stadiums around the world struggle to pay for themselves and it is unclear who will pick up any losses or future capital works. The Government or Auckland Council?
What other options are out there for a downtown stadium?
Goff has been taking a fresh look at a downtown stadium since being elected in 2016 and this year received a pre-feasibility report by PwC costing $923,000 that looked at several sites, costing between $1.1b and $1.5b. Railway land alongside Spark Arena, owned by Ngati Whatua, was believed to be the favoured location. Other possible sites are understood to include Victoria Park and Wynyard Quarter.
What does it mean for sport?
Under this plan, rugby, the Warriors and football would be at the rectangular shaped waterfront stadium, which can be refigured from 50,000 seats to 65,000 for major events, and downsized for less popular games. It also opens the door for New Zealand to make bids for the 2030 Commonwealth Games and 2031 Rugby World Cup. Cricket will be played on a new oval tentatively planned by Auckland Council's facilities arm at Western Springs.