Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) chairman Andrew Barnes has called on local officials to focus on the city’s existing stadia, including the embattled Eden Park, rather than a proposal to develop a new 50,000-seat venue.
The future of the New Zealand city’s stadia has been the subject of much debate, with the RFA having drawn up four strategic plans since 2012. The current situation has been complicated further by the emergence last year of Auckland Waterfront Consortium’s proposal to build a privately financed stadium alongside a redeveloped Bledisloe Wharf.
The iconic Eden Park (pictured) is currently facing severe financial difficulties, with the New Zealand Herald newspaper stating it faces losses of NZ$80m (£42.2m/€48.5m/$55m) over the next decade, with no money in place for new turf, floodlights and video screens.
RFA’s latest strategic plan involves spending up to NZ$91m to transform Western Springs Stadium into a cricket venue, and turning Mt Smart Stadium and QBE Stadium into “community stadiums”. Eden Park is currently set aside from this plan, with the proposed new waterfront stadium not included in RFA’s remit.
Barnes told the Herald: “Our strategy is quite simple. Don’t rebuild Mt Smart. Build an alternative concert and cricket venue at Western Springs and council needs to put in place a long-term strategy to support Eden Park… that is the most cost-effective solution.
“My position has been crystal clear. A joined-up strategy is necessary. It doesn’t make sense to spend what would be $1bn-plus to put a downtown stadium in place. We have to maximise the use of facilities we currently have, and that means Eden Park.”
Barnes said RFA is now keen to work with Eden Park, however the stadium is remaining cautious. Eden Park Trust chairman Doug McKay said the organisation had cordial relations with RFA, but no involvement with the latest strategic plan, “which is not really a stadium strategy, just a shuffling of existing assets”. He added: “We are happy to share our views when we are asked and invited into the conversation. Clearly there is a solution but I don’t want to do what RFA is doing, jumping to a solution and saying this is what is happening.”
Meanwhile, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has said a NZ$40m loan to Eden Park underwritten by council to complete renovation work for the 2011 Rugby World Cup needs to be settled with a “commercial rate of return” when it terminates in September.
Eden Park is also seeking a further NZ$65m for maintenance work and Goff has hinted that any additional funding may see council request a greater say in the management of the trust-owned stadium. “If council is going to spend money, it wants to be sure the beneficiary of any loan is managing its assets as cost effectively as possible,” Goff told the Stuff.co.nz website.
He added: “That (a loan) would be on the condition of the Eden Park Trust Board working closely with council and the council’s venue operator, Regional Facilities Auckland, to find ways of ensuring the best utilisation of the stadium. That would minimise losses and duplication, and work better and more closely with council, in terms of the range of the stadium assets that the city has.”
Image: Eden Park