Brisbane 2032 officials defend Gabba project

Concept for The Gabba

Featured image credit: Queensland Government

Officials behind the delivery of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brisbane have defended the contentious A$2.7bn (£1.37bn/€1.6bn/$1.73bn) redevelopment of The Gabba stadium which will see it serve as the centrepiece of the events.

Games executives faced questioning from senators on the first day of a federal inquiry into Australia’s preparedness to stage the Games. The Australian and Queensland Governments in February unveiled a A$7bn funding agreement to overhaul the state’s sporting infrastructure ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, focusing on redevelopment of The Gabba and construction of the new Brisbane Live arena.

The Queensland Government will fund the A$2.7bn redevelopment of The Gabba, while the Federal Government will provide A$2.5bn for the Brisbane Arena development otherwise known as Brisbane Live. In addition, 16 new or upgraded venues will receive close to A$1.87bn in co-funding on a 50/50 basis between the two governments.

The Gabba, formally known as Brisbane Cricket Ground, has a current capacity of 42,000 and is primarily used for cricket but also hosts AFL Aussie rules football and other sports. The Gabba will be fully demolished and rebuilt to a 50,000 capacity and will anchor major urban renewal including delivering more housing, including social and affordable housing.

The current stadium is deemed to be nearing the end of its life and the redevelopment intends to support the long-term professional sport, community and entertainment needs of the city before and after 2032. For Brisbane 2032, it is intended to host Olympic and Paralympic athletics and ceremonies.

However, the project has proved contentious with opposition particularly focused on the requirement that East Brisbane State School be demolished and relocated to make way for the new-look Gabba.

Speaking at the inquiry, Queensland’s state development director general, Mike Kaiser, reiterated that the construction of a new Gabba, rather than partial redevelopment, was the only way to proceed for the project.

“Without a doubt, the value-for-money outcome is a teardown and rebuild,” he said, according to the Brisbane Times. “The cheapest of the other options was still A$2.2bn, and it would have been a refurbishment that would have denied us the opportunities to integrate it into the surrounding community and create those legacy benefits. And a refurbishment, as opposed to a rebuild, also comes with considerable risk.”

Earlier, Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate told the inquiry that using the existing athletics and swimming facilities in his jurisdiction, developed for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, would have provided better value than the plans for the Gabba and Brisbane Arena.

Greens senator Penny Allman-Payne questioned Kaiser over whether East Brisbane State School would have needed to close had an alternative such as the Gold Coast option been pursued. “If you were rebuilding (the Gabba) for AFL and cricket as the legacy and you didn’t have to fit in an athletics track, it would seem to me that you would be able to do that within its existing footprint,” she said.

Kaiser responded that each of the options, “whether it was refurbishment or rebuilding, required East Brisbane State School to close”.

Meanwhile, Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) chief executive, Matt Carroll, maintained that it was not the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that pushed for a new-look venue as the focal point of Brisbane 2032.

“The IOC does not require you to build new venues unless you really need them,” he said, according to the ABC. “The Olympic Movement is saying the decision is, ‘If you don’t have one, and want to build a new one, make sure it is not just for the Olympics’. And that’s what the Gabba rebuild is about.”

Allman-Payne also asked Carroll to confirm the IOC’s assessment that a proposal for seven new venues for the Games could be reduced to two, through “venue master plan optimisation”. She added: “So would it be fair to say the decision to knock down the Gabba and rebuild it is not actually optimising the master plan, in fact, incurring a huge cost of an additional A$2.7bn is not actually required even on the view of the IOC?”

Carroll replied: “It is a decision of government to decide on that venue.” The federal inquiry is also set to address the high-profile collapse of Victoria’s hosting rights deal to stage the 2026 Commonwealth Games.