Christchurch City Council has today (Thursday) approved a new design direction for the Canterbury Multi-Use Arena (CMUA), with the venue to have a seating capacity of 25,000 in an effort to minimise cost increases for the project.

Initial design concepts (pictured) for the stadium 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. The venue will now have a smaller footprint than the initial concept, with seating for 25,000 and the ability to accommodate 36,000 for concerts, although the new design will not include the possibility of temporary seating.

The new design direction approved by the council centres on a U-shaped concourse and space for a ‘stage pocket’ at its northern end. The council had initially been looking at building a stadium with a full level one concourse and seating for 30,000, but this came in at NZ$88m (£44.6m/€52m/$61.3m) over budget once a value management assessment had been carried out.

The council cited scope changes from the initial investment case and the rapidly escalating price of steel and shipping costs worldwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget for the stadium is NZ$473m, with the council to provide NZ$253m and the Crown to put in NZ$220m.

After BESIX Watpac NZ, which is part of the consortium of businesses selected to design and construct the stadium, has completed both preliminary and developed designs for the CMUA, it will have a firm indication of cost risks to the project, including any further escalations in construction materials and shipping prices.

The council said that the final lump sum bid BESIC Watpac NZ submits for the design and construction of the arena will take all of these factors into account.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said: “The design direction we have approved today provides a clear way forward and will result in Christchurch getting a fit-for-purpose covered arena befitting the largest city in the South Island.

“The future of entertainment is changing, with the advent of esports and the global decline in attendance at sporting fixtures. This was evident before the global pandemic. We need to compete with high-definition livestreams into the comfort of people’s own homes, so the experience of being in an arena needs to be special.

“While the arena will have a smaller footprint than the initial concept that was used to establish the investment case for the arena, it will still have seating for 25,000 and the ability to accommodate 36,000 for a concert so Christchurch will be able to attract the type of large-scale events that we want to see here.

“We’ll be able to offer a premium arena experience and host major concerts, cultural events, exhibitions and sporting fixtures that will delight and entertain our residents and visitors to the city.”

Last week, Murray Strong, who served as chair of the company overseeing the construction of the stadium, resigned from the role. A successor is set to be appointed in September.

Stuff.co.nz has reported that the revised design concept for the stadium would considerably increase the fee Christchurch would need to pay to host a major All Blacks match at the venue. The fee would reportedly rise from NZ$800,000 with the initial concept to around NZ$1.2m with the new design.

Image: Christchurch City Council