In the second of a two-part series on Auckland stadiums, venues and museums, Simon Wilson looks at the waterfront options.

Should Auckland build a stadium on the waterfront? Or a museum? Or both?

Auckland mayor Phil Goff infuriated his councillors last year by spending almost a million dollars on a report on stadium options, which has not been made public. If it favours anything, it's likely to be a new stadium on land near Spark Arena.

Most of that land belongs to Ngāti Whātua. But the iwi's Ngarimu Blair says they don't want to invest in a stadium, because stadiums lose money. Even when they're concert venues, he says.


But Ngāti Whātua does want to buy the port land, if it ever becomes available, and Blair says if Eden Park ever goes on the market they'd be interesting in buying that too.

Part one: A field of dreams: The future of Eden Park

There's another proposal, by the architectural firm Archimedia, for the redevelopment of port land for mixed use: Housing, commercial, beaches, a lagoon and lots of other open public space. That also includes a stadium by the Spark Arena.

But the most high-profile proposal is for a sunken stadium on the edge of Bledisloe Wharf, jutting into the water where Marsden Wharf is now. Blair, among many others, thinks it would be impossible.

An artists impression of an Auckland waterfront stadium for Bledisloe Wharf. Photo / Supplied
An artists impression of an Auckland waterfront stadium for Bledisloe Wharf. Photo / Supplied

Local entrepreneur Phil O'Reilly, whose idea it was, says the scoffers aren't thinking straight.

"We venerate the gods of practicality," he says, "and we pay far to much attention to their shamans."

He means that instead of getting excited about a big idea, we give in to small doubts. O'Reilly is dismayed the proposal has been condemned for its supposed engineering impracticality and for ignoring the impact of climate change.

But is it really possible to build a stadium on the sea floor, with the top lip of the seating just a couple of metres above the surface of the sea, and have it withstand storms and tidal drag over decades, not to mention rising sea levels?

O'Reilly's consortium believes it is, but he says the next step is to find out. They want "ignition funding" - a few million dollars, in the form of a loan, that would investigate all the engineering, climate, functionality and urban design issues their proposal throws up.

They asked the council and were turned down. Now they're seeking private backers, here and overseas.

The architect in the group, Richard Goldie of Auckland firm Peddle Thorp, says none of the required technology is new. He's confident they can future proof it for every eventuality.

The most difficult issue, according to O'Reilly and others, will not be storms or rising seas. It's securing the building to the sea floor so it doesn't float away.

But even if it's feasible, is it desirable?

Eden Park's future for the next 10 to 15 years is settled, because it has the funding and nothing new can be built in less than that time. But longer term it's weak.

That's because, for commercial and other reasons, our premier sports stadium also needs to be a premier venue for other events. Eden Park will never be able to fulfil the potential of a modern multi-purpose entertainment and sporting arena, for four key reasons.

• Its business plan should require it to be as busy as possible, but that's very hard in the suburbs, where the busier it gets the more disruptive it gets.

• When patrons go to a show or a game it makes for a better night out if they have lots of hospitality and entertainment options before and after.

• The Eden Park land is valuable for other purposes, both economically and socially.

• Eden Park is a cobbled-together answer for a problem that demands a much more imaginative and satisfying solution.

Those four factors combine to suggest a new stadium on the waterfront is a better option. And there a couple of other strong arguments especially relevant to the sunken stadium idea:

• It would be "free".

The consortium wants to fund its stadium by selling the Eden Park land and some of the port land. A developer would buy both, develop them under whatever rules the city wants to impose, and build the stadium too.

In the sense that this would impose no financial burden on ratepayers and taxpayers, it would be "free". But it's not really free. We would lose the asset of the port land, which is owned by the council. And although the Eden Park land is owned by the trust, not the council, it's answerable to the government and effectively that means the public would lose control of that land as well.

The proposal assumes the car imports go elsewhere. If that operation is shifted to Northport, near Whangārei, it will involve infrastructure development costs. However, that might well happen anyway – the first report of the working group looking at upper North Island freight issues is expected to be made public this month.

The sunken stadium proposal means public assets would be privatised to create great new public and private assets. Do we want that? It's worth the debate.

• It would be amazing.

Goldie's design for the sunken stadium incorporates public walkways down to the water all round and glass walls above sea level. Seen from land or sea it would appear to sit, shimmering, on the water, and you'd be able to see right through it.

The capacity would be about 50,000, and with screens the central arena could be transformed into a smaller space, as required.

That building would answer the need for a venue for concerts, sport and more, seating 10,000-50,000 for every day and every night promoters wanted to book it. At least 25 times a year, perhaps double that or more. And it would be, by far, the most remarkable thing we've ever built in this country. And one of the most beautiful.

All round the world, cities are turning to architecture to provide magnificent buildings that raise up the aspirations of citizens and act as a beacon for visitors and a whole host of economic activities. Is Auckland going to join them, or sit it out?

But hang on. If the answer is yes, we do want some magnificent architecture on the waterfront, it doesn't follow it should be a stadium. It's culture that brings the crowds, far more than sport. Concerts make more money than sports events, and museums get more visitors than anything.

Are we going to keep arguing about stadiums when the even greater need, and the greater value, would be in a new museum?

Auckland doesn't have a great museum visitor attraction, which is not to detract from the good work and the popularity of both the Auckland Museum and the Auckland Art Gallery.

But there is nowhere in the city about which locals and visitors alike will say, hey if you're going to Auckland there's an attraction you really must not miss.

By definition, it will have to be centrally located, astonishing in its conception and design, unique to us as New Zealanders, an educational and entertainment magnet and a storehouse for the wonders of our local cultures, history, achievements, stories and imaginings.

You could meet that definition with a museum of Māori and Pasifika in Aotearoa. That's what Ngāti Whātua's Ngarimu Blair thinks should be built.

You could site that on Queen's Wharf, as a long-standing proposal known as Kiwa suggests.

You could do it with a cultural and technological museum of the people of the sea, Tangata Moana, telling the story of Aotearoa from Kupe to the America's Cup and beyond, as I wrote about in January. You could site that at Wynyard Point.

At least one other similar proposal, but without the focus on the sea, is also in development and could be launched soon.

Leases held by the current occupants on Wynyard Point will expire in the 2020s. Auckland's existing long-term plans show apartment buildings and public parkland on the site, but no large public building.

The immediate goal for anyone wanting to promote a major public building for the site is to get preparatory funding included in Auckland Council's 10-year budget. The next iteration of that budget will be drafted and publicly debated next year.

In fact, that has to be the goal for the sunken stadium people too, and for anyone else who wants to see a big new cultural and/or sporting complex on the waterfront, whether it's on Wynyard Point, Bledisloe Wharf, Queens Wharf or somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Te Papa lurks in the wings.

Opening a branch of the national museum and art gallery in Auckland is not a new idea. In 2011, a working party of senior museum people and others, chaired by Hamish Keith, reported on the feasibility of the idea to the Auckland Waterfront Authority (now the council's "placemaking" agency Panuku).

They envisaged Te Papa North being sited on Wynyard Point and some wonderfully striking concept images were developed.

Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

More recently the proposal has migrated to Manukau and the care of a different council outfit; the tourism, events and economic development agency ATEED.

And it received an unexpected boost from the Kaikoura earthquake, which unsettled Wellington in more ways than the physical. That quake revealed just how vulnerable the capital is to a seismic disaster and, as a result, many government institutions are considering their resilience. Te Papa is one of them.

The museum has a strategic desire to store parts of its collections away from the capital, which dovetails nicely with a desire at both local and central government levels to strengthen the institutional heft of South Auckland.

Te Papa Manukau would be a "transformative project", says Ateed chief executive Nick Hill. "You have to think of it as far more than storage."

A site in Manukau called Haymans Park is favoured, where a new building would become a permanent home for parts of the national collections, a site for temporary exhibitions and a beacon for education. Hill says it would help grow the creative industries, tourism and retail. There's some pretty obvious educational value too.

A reference group is guiding the proposal, chaired by Te Papa chief executive Geraint Martin and including local and central government agencies.

Nothing will happen without investment from the Government, which right now is zero. But a proposal has gone to Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance and also Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

Will there be something in the Budget? Robertson declined to comment, but that's the hope.

Now what? Some people say we should leave well alone, that the current set-up works fine. That isn't true. It's nearly all broken.

Because of restrictions on concerts, covered in part one of this series, Eden Park can't make the most of itself and therefore the city will continue to miss out on major concerts and other events.

The Eden Park Trust Board says the restrictions have also kept away the likes of Phil Collins, Eminem, Monster Trucks and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Something for almost everyone, you might think.

It would cost hundreds of millions to turn Eden Park into a really good venue with a roof.

At Mt Smart, home of the Warriors, the changing rooms flood when it rains. There are no decent facilities for concert performers and nor, really, are there any for the public. It's in a barren part of town and that's not going to change. And it will cost tens of millions to keep it going.

The Warriors have secured a lease on Mt Smart until 2028, but if they're serious about wanting to become the best team in the NRL they will need a decent stadium to call home. For now, that has to be Eden Park.

As for the entertainers who have played Mt Smart in recent years, you think Bruce Springsteen, or Adele, or Ed Sheeran were great? They would have been way beyond that at Eden Park, and so would the whole experience of getting there, being there and getting away afterwards.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Steven McNicholl

At Western Springs, the speedway track is not fit for purpose, which the speedway people themselves have explained. There isn't a single reason why the council should be required to fix that, when alternatives beckon, and when the cost of doing so, just to maintain an out-of-date status quo, also runs into the tens of millions.

Speedway could anchor a new purpose-built motorsport facility at Colin Dale Park near the airport, or adapt to life at Waikaraka Park in Onehunga.

As for Auckland Cricket, it's not widely understood but they are not a beneficial trustee of the place. Provincial and test cricket could be played in a beautiful new venue, like Hagley Park in Christchurch and the redeveloped pitches in Dunedin, Nelson, New Plymouth, Napier and Hamilton.

Think about that list for a moment: Auckland doesn't have a cricket venue to match what's been built in half the provincial cities of New Zealand. Because Auckland Cricket, which would be one of its principal beneficiaries, isn't interested. Even though Western Springs could be better than all of them.

Alongside of all this, Auckland, best city in the Pacific – well, don't we think we should be? – doesn't have any kind of major institutional cultural presence at its heart. Nothing that engages us, and the world, in the quest to discover what being a great Pacific city means. The heart of the city is the waterfront on the Waitematā.

So. There are conflicting proposals for cultural centres and the sports codes are in dispute over what should happen at Eden Park, Mt Smart and Western Springs. Can they be massaged into a single plan?

How about, over the next 10 years, we do these five things.

1. Boost Eden Park for all it's worth

Change its permitted activity status to bring in concerts, night-time cricket, league and everything else that would work there.

2. Do the prep for a new stadium

Because Eden Park can't last forever, and nor should it. Focus on a location near the city's public transport superhub, at the centre of its nightlife and where it will look most wonderful. Where's that? It's the waterfront.

3. Set up a working group!

A new group, established as a partnership between iwi, the rest of the city and the Government, to consult everyone and do the preparatory work for a great cultural institution on the waterfront.

4. Support Te Papa North

Get that centre established in Manukau and co-ordinate planning with the new group so they complement each other.

5. Move speedway and cricket

All of this just leaves the consequential issues of what to do about speedway, and provincial and test cricket.

How about we give them good alternatives, paid for within reason, and wish them on their way. For the good of the city, don't let them sabotage everything else.

How will we pay for it all? Or to put that another way, how much should the private sector be involved and on what terms? We can argue about that as we go.

It's election year for mayor and council. Any candidates want to make a start?

Part one of Simon Wilson's two-part series on stadiums, venues and museums appeared in the Weekend Herald, April 13 and is here.

How do John Tamihere's policies fit in?

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere announced his policy on parks yesterday. The key points in relation to the issues discussed in this two-part series are:

• Warriors to move to Eden Park and Auckland Cricket to move out of Eden Park to a new facility.

• A new multi-sport covered stadium to be built on the Eden Park number 2 ground.

• Speedway to remain at Western Springs until a new facility is "available".

• Cancel "unnecessary upgrades" to facilities that are not fit for purpose.

The proposals for the Warriors, cricket, speedway and unfit facilities align with the analysis put forward in this series. But confirming a long-term use for Eden Park, with a covered second stadium, does not.

Tamihere has not yet announced policy related to the waterfront or museums. Mayor Phil Goff has not yet announced any policy.