City councillors in Christchurch will meet this week to decide whether to reduce the capacity of a proposed new stadium amid concerns over cost increases.

Initial design concepts for the Canterbury Multi-Use Arena (CMUA) had proposed that the venue feature 25,000 seats with space for 5,000 temporary seats, giving it an overall potential capacity of 30,000.

Last month, a legal dispute surrounding the development of the arena was resolved after the Crown reached an agreement to acquire the final property needed for the project to proceed. It came after Christchurch City Council announced in March that the Kōtui consortium of businesses had been selected to design and construct the facility.

The new recommended direction of the CMUA features a U-shaped concourse and 25,000 seating capacity (36,000 in concert mode), with space for a ‘stage pocket’ at the northern end of the venue. Christchurch City Council said today (Tuesday) that this design would “significantly reduce” risk of turf damage from concerts and festivals, have a smaller on-site footprint and ensure the project stays within its NZ$473m (£240m/€277m/$327m) budget.

The council said that cost verification of an initial concept design of the ‘base case scheme’, which featured 30,000 seats, concert seating on the field of play and a full level one concourse, came in NZ$131.4m over budget. Following a value management process, the base case scheme was still NZ$88.8m over budget.

Nigel Cox, head of recreation sport and events for the council, said that these costs were primarily caused by the escalating price of steel and shipping worldwide after COVID-19, and the increased scale needed to accommodate additional seating and a level one concourse.

A turf report also concluded that the base case scheme would have “significant risks” of turf failure and a turf farm would be required, which would cost a further NZ$1.2m to establish and around NZ$1m annually to maintain.

A number of options have been considered to bring the cost of construction of the major anchor project back within budget, with the council having worked with Venues Ōtautahi officers and staff at BESIX Watpac NZ, which is part of the consortium of businesses selected to design and construct the stadium.

If councillors vote to approve the design direction on Thursday, BESIX Watpac NZ will work at pace on a preliminary design, which will be published once completed.

Cox said: “The world has changed dramatically since the CMUA investment case was prepared and signed off in 2019, and the price of construction materials and international shipping costs have risen astronomically across the board.”

He added: “As with all large projects, the CMUA’s pre-contract services agreement phase is designed to help the contractor and Council identify and address any risks relating to cost, timeframes and project scope early on.

“Council and Venues Ōtautahi staff worked closely with representatives of the Kōtui consortium that’s responsible for the design and construction of the CMUA, and found ways to bring the cost of the project down, while still delivering an anchor project that Cantabrians will be proud of.”

Venues Ōtautahi chief executive Caroline Harvie-Teare said: “The design delivers on all of the core fundamentals critical to the success of the venue. A 25,000 seating capacity and 36,000 large concert capacity ensures the CMUA is a competitive proposition in the national market, and, most importantly, it realises the forecast social, cultural and economic benefits for the city.”

Image: Christchurch City Council