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‘The possibilities are near endless’ – Te Kaha hoping to fill gap in the market for Christchurch

Images: Christchurch City Council

Work on a new multi-use stadium in Christchurch, New Zealand remains on budget and on track to open by April 2026, with the delivery team behind the project hoping the venue can fill the void left by Lancaster Park.

Lancaster Park was forced to close after being damaged beyond repair by Christchurch’s devastating 2011 earthquake, which left 185 people dead. The stadium hosted rugby union and cricket matches, as well as other sports events and major music concerts.

Plans for a new stadium have been on the agenda for some time, and work finally commenced on the Te Kaha (meaning ‘enduring strength’) project last year after Christchurch City Council ratified a new budget of NZ$683m (£336m/€387m/$410m).

The figure represented an increase of NZ$150m on the initial budget. The matter was put to a public consultation, with more than three quarters of the 30,000 people who responded voting in favour of the new budget.

A key feature of Te Kaha will be a permanent, oculus-style ETFE roof, enabling the stadium to host events all year round. The facility will also be able to operate in ‘cut-down concert mode’ for smaller events.

The stadium will have 25,000 permanent seats, with space in the northern stand to hold a further 5,000 temporary seats and a maximum capacity of 36,000 in full concert mode. While work is now well underway, issues outside of the council’s control led to uncertainty over the project ever breaking ground.

“Designing an international-level, roofed arena during – and immediately after – the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war proved to be one of the key challenges as the project delivery and design teams grappled with rapidly escalating shipping and construction costs, rising inflation and supply chain uncertainties,” Kent Summerfield, project director of delivery at Te Kaha, tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.

“A budget increase of that magnitude meant the Christchurch City Council had to re-evaluate its options regarding the construction: delay the project altogether, reduce the seating capacity by 5,000 seats so that it stayed within the initial budget, or increase the budget, which would have an impact on the Christchurch ratepayers.

“The council consulted the community and received 30,000 responses – its biggest-ever consultation exercise. Ultimately, 77% of the submitters voted to increase the budget by NZ$150m, so Te Kaha could be built to its original scope.”

To avoid any further potential increases for the Christchurch ratepayers, the council has entered into a lump-sum contract with lead contractor BESIX Watpac.

Another issue facing developers is the inner-city land on which Te Kaha is being built. Summerfield says that the 2011 earthquake “severely compromised” the land, meaning that thousands of rammed aggregated piers needed to be pushed deep into the soil to stabilise the land and ensure the stadium is resilient to future seismic activity.

Te Kaha may still be two and a half years from opening, but the main outline of the stadium is already starting to take shape. All of the substructure and foundation work was completed at the end of July, a process that involved almost 26,000 cubic metres of concrete and more than 4,800 tonnes of reinforced steel being added to the substructure to support the weight of the roof and the arena bowl, and deal with future seismic events.

“Work on the western, southern and eastern stands is progressing well, with the structural steel that will make up the bowl of the multi-use arena being installed on these three stands,” says Summerfield.

“Trucks are delivering these oversized components of structural steel to the site, where they are then lifted into place with mobile cranes. The precast concrete double tee floors are being installed on the western stand and southern stands. Concrete pours to top the western stand’s double tee floors, and further concrete pours for the eastern stand’s ground floor slab, are continuing.

“External precast concrete façade walls on the ground floor are also being installed on the western and southern stands. At the same time, the detailed design is nearing completion and the majority of the required consenting packages have been submitted and approved. Approximately 140 contractors and sub-contractors are on site at the moment. At the project’s peak next year, more than 400 workers are expected to be on site.”

Te Kaha will feature a fixed rectangular turf, high-quality acoustics, 23 food and beverage outlets, three bars, 23 corporate suites and various premium seating options. Summerfield notes that the stadium will be an all-electric venue for cooking, heating and maintenance equipment.

Inclusivity has also informed the design process, with 140 accessible seats to be made available, along with 25 accessible all-gender toilets, plus 32 additional all-gender toilets, three parenting rooms, and 39 accessible car parks.

The stadium will be capable of hosting All Blacks matches, international music concerts, corporate functions, esports events, and other sports such as boxing and tennis. “The possibilities are near endless,” says Summerfield.

The stadium would also meet standards for FIFA World Cup matches. New Zealand successfully co-hosted the Women’s World Cup alongside Australia in the summer, but Christchurch missed out amid concerns over upgrades that would be needed at Apollo Projects Stadium, the 17,000-capacity venue that primarily serves as a rugby league and rugby union facility.

“As well as the previously mentioned large community consultation that was undertaken to determine the final seating capacity of Te Kaha, the council’s project delivery team and the contractor, BESIX Watpac, worked closely with a wide range of sporting and events-focused community groups to ensure the venue would be fit-for-purpose for a wide range of events,” says Summerfield.

“We have worked closely with mana whenua (local indigenous groups) on the design of a cultural narrative that will be incorporated into the façade, seating, and main entrance to the arena.

“We also arranged for the preliminary designs to be audited by a collective of local young people, who provided feedback and considerations that were taken into account in the developed designs.”

A 2019 investment case for the stadium project predicted economic benefits of NZ$462.2m over the course of 25 years. Large sporting events are estimated to bring in NZ$3.6m a year, with large international concerts projected to add NZ$10m.

Since the demolition of Lancaster Park, Christchurch has been unable to attract the high-profile events that befit New Zealand’s second-largest city. The hope is that Te Kaha will fill that gap in the market.

“A full generation of the city’s population hasn’t had the opportunity to see top international music acts, or a Tier 1 international rugby match, in their hometown,” adds Summerfield.

“Te Kaha will add to the central city’s vitality, catalyse further development, help re-establish Christchurch as a sporting and cultural capital and boost the city’s economy by attracting visitors from around New Zealand and the world.”