Emirates Airline Park, the Johannesburg stadium better known as Ellis Park, has installed a water filtration plant and plans to introduce solar panels on its roof amid wider improvement ambitions.

The historic 62,000-seat stadium, home to Super Rugby franchise the Lions, has detailed how it has used the COVID-19 shutdown period to improve operations. Ellis Park Stadium (Pty) Ltd (EPS) managing director Pieter Burger said the venue has initially sought to use its location, atop the origins of the Jukskei River, as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage.

He told South African newspaper The Times: “We have pumps that run 24 hours a day. If those pumps break, this becomes the biggest municipal pool in the country because the field will be two metres under water.

“Before lockdown they decided to build a purification plant and then put the water through an osmosis process. That allows us to bottle our own water.”

Burger said the plant’s capacity is 28,000 litres per day, with the water produced being sold. He stated: “We want to target specific markets. We don’t want to compete with the big players in that space.”

Concerning further sustainability efforts, he continued: “We have issues with generating and maintaining power. We have three stadiums that have amazing space on theirs roofs in a city where the technology is well advanced to generate solar power. We can produce our own energy and we can create a surplus and apply for a licence at Nersa (the National Energy Regulator of South Africa) and sell that to our neighbours.

“We can also sell what we generate to the local authority and the municipality can put it on the grid. That is more long-term but something that we are looking at.”

Ellis Park famously staged the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, while also hosting seven FIFA World Cup games in 2010, including two Brazil matches and Spain’s quarter-final defeat of Paraguay.

The Ellis Park site hosted its first major rugby match in June 1928 when South Africa played New Zealand. The original stadium was demolished and rebuilt in 1979 with further renovations in the 1980s and ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

Burger said plans are in place to transform the wider stadium precinct so that it becomes “the biggest inner city beautification project in SA”. He continued: “We have to create a multifunctional facility. We are in advanced negotiations with investors and developers. The area will benefit from a hotel‚ as well as components that include retail‚ business and living space.

“As part of the redevelopment, we are also looking at adding a Gautrain stop at Ellis Park. This will be a total redevelopment of the entire precinct. It won’t just benefit the city but it will contribute to the sustainability of EPS.”

While EPS is also seeking the return of major concerts, Burger explained Ellis Park also wants to become a regular venue for the domestic Premier Soccer League (PSL). He added: “We housed two teams in the PSL’s bio-bubble. It was so successful we are in discussions with three PSL and one NFD (National First Division) team that want to make this their home ground.

“Pirates‚ Bidvest Wits‚ TS Galaxy and Sekhukhune United all used this facility in the last three‚ four months and were really impressed.”

Image: Leglo09/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size