A permanent test cricket venue at Western Springs Stadium is a step closer after a tender was put out for developers to provide architectural designs to transform the venue.
If the work goes ahead, it would end speedway's 90-year legacy at the arena.
Regional Facilities Auckland posted a set of "request for proposal" documents under the heading "Western Springs Renewals - Lead Designer" to the Tenderlink online portal on January 17. The deadline for responses was February 22.
A pre-condition for securing the contract was a "proven record in designing an International Cricket Stadium with a minimum seating capacity of 15,000". Those making bids were asked to describe their "capacity and capability to meet the pre-condition".
Both of these were required for the tender to get to the evaluation stage.
An RFA caveat in the tender publication was that it reserved the right not to go ahead or to cancel the project at any time - a standard get-out clause. That might come into the reckoning when funding issues are considered.
A source told the Weekend Herald the design alone was expected to cost "a ballpark figure of $2 million-$3 million" as part of an overall project budget of $20m to $40m.
Ratepayers would be right to question if that was a justified investment, especially with the number of future home cricket tests expected to dwindle.
Any new ground could also host one-day and T20 internationals for countries outside the big three of Australia, England and India.
Paul Nisbet, the director of Auckland stadiums for the RFA, said their plan had not changed. "As signalled previously, speedway activity is scheduled to end at Western Springs in March 2019. As part of that, essential renewal work on the venue and some design planning work for future use have been tendered.
"It is our intention to re-purpose Western Springs and the work being considered at the moment will make the venue suitable for future sporting use.
"As indicated in the RFP, an international cricket oval is RFA's preferred option. However, costs for any future work on Western Springs beyond the renewals programme will be considered as part of RFA's overall capital budget in Auckland Council's long term plan."
Speedway promoter Greg Mosen believes the sport will be there after March 2019 because it is too late to have an alternative ready, even if they started now.
"The RFA have failed to find a suitable venue alternative for the sport. We have waited for them to deliver and they haven't.
"The RFA stadium strategy seems to be falling apart around them and we don't want to be part of that. A knee-jerk reaction or a move to a venue that turns out to be unsuitable isn't what the sport of speedway wants.
"We are tired of two-year renewals - we need some certainty. We are of the opinion that means remaining at Western Springs."
The question over where to play cricket tests in Auckland has plagued the city's sporting landscape for years.
New Zealand Cricket are committed to Eden Park, at least for this summer, because the ground was deemed the best option to host the country's inaugural day-night test - against England, March 22-26.
On the other hand, Mt Maunganui's Bay Oval has shown it is capable of meeting the day-night brief. Eden Park also remains the best cricket venue to cater for big crowds, such as the 35,000 fans who attended the recent Australia-New Zealand T20 match.
There is also debate over the ground's small size, with critics saying it detracts from the spectacle.
NZC said Eden Park was International Cricket Council-compliant because of a grandfather clause [it was an established ground before the latest regulations on minimum ground size].
"It is the only international cricket venue in Auckland and, as such, is NZC's sole option in terms of bringing the Black Caps to the region," NZC added.
But the latest RFA move suggests a shift from what has been Auckland's cricket home since the New Zealand-England test in February 1930.
Last February, the Herald revealed feasibility work had started on what was being termed a "national cricket stadium" at Western Springs.
Tonkin + Taylor, one of the country's leading environmental and engineering consultancies, had been assigned the work.
Auckland Cricket prefers to stick with the status quo. As an original owner of the Eden Park site, they are offered guarantees with their existing deal. Those include an annuity of approximately $330,000 under the Eden Park Trust Amendment Act 2009. That is further supplemented by cost savings on office space - as tenants at the ground - carparks, and the maintenance and use of the indoor facility.
Auckland, via Eden Park, has been used as a test venue twice in the past decade for matches against England in 2013 and India in 2014.
Purpose-built cricket grounds such as Hamilton's Seddon Park, Wellington's Basin Reserve, Christchurch's Hagley Oval and Dunedin's University Oval have been preferred for the game's longest form.
In some quarters, that is seen as a missed economic opportunity with the biggest population in the country denied test cricket for eight of the past 10 summers.
- Additional reporting: Dale Budge, Michael Burgess
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