Revamped RNA Showgrounds set to step in for The Gabba

Featured image credit: Queensland Government

The Queensland Government has announced a A$137m (£71.7m/€83.3m/$90.7m) redevelopment of the RNA Showgrounds’ Main Arena, with a view to it becoming the temporary main home of AFL Aussie rules club Brisbane Lions and Queensland Cricket amid the major transformation of The Gabba.

The Government’s announcement today (Friday) seeks to resolve one of the key challenges surrounding the contentious overhaul of The Gabba. The Government last week said it was seeking out design and construction partners for the complete redevelopment of The Gabba after the project to transform the venue into the centrepiece for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games was approved.

The Gabba’s design process will occur in 2024, with deconstruction set to commence in 2025. A targeted completion has been set at 2030 meaning that existing Gabba tenants, the Lions and Queensland Cricket, were set to be without a major inner-city venue for five years.

The Government today said an extensive South East Queensland-wide review has identified the RNA Showgrounds’ Main Arena as the best possible temporary venue during The Gabba rebuild. The Main Arena will be upgraded to deliver a “cost-effective”, 20,000-seat alternative home for the Lions, cricket and major events.

A permanent seating bowl below a temporary grandstand at Machinery Hill is proposed for A$137m Main Arena upgrade that aims to also create a lasting community legacy for bringing city and country together at the Royal Queensland Show (EKKA).

The RNA Showgrounds’ inner-city location beside a Cross River Rail station and proximity to after-game entertainment precincts was assessed as the most appealing option for spectators and the community.

Up to A$45.7m has been committed by the Queensland Government to the project. Brisbane City Council, the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA), owner and operator of the venue, and The Gabba’s primary tenants have been asked to share the remaining A$91m cost for the Main Arena upgrade to proceed.

Queensland Government said work on the RNA Main Arena must begin by next year to be ready for the 2025-26 cricket season and the 2026 start of The Gabba redevelopment. Main Arena seating will be scaled back to 12,000 seats after Brisbane 2032.  

Sport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said: “The Palaszczuk Government has worked closely with cricket and the AFL to find the best alternative venue for teams, spectators and the community while The Gabba is out of action.

“Upgrading the RNA Main Arena means keeping the big games in Brisbane and supporting the visitor economy while delivering an EKKA legacy for uniting city and country. I want to thank the Lord Mayor (Adrian Schrinner) for his public backing of an upgrade to the historic Main Arena at the RNA Showgrounds to retain the economic benefits of sport and jobs here in Brisbane.

“Most Queenslanders acknowledge cricket and the AFL will need somewhere to play during The Gabba redevelopment. With many families facing cost-of-living pressures, the upgrade of RNA’s Main Arena is a logical solution, representing the best value-for-money for Queenslanders.”

However, despite the Government’s claims, Schrinner said he was “taken by surprise” by today’s announcement, adding that it was the state’s responsibility to find a new home for the Lions and Queensland Cricket.

In response, Hinchcliffe told ABC that it was “the role of the city to deliver” and that Schrinner had made it “very clear” he thought the RNA was the solution. Hinchcliffe added: “But when it’s come to actually putting forward some commitment to that something delivers for our 2032 (Olympics), and our city’s ambitions and our region’s ambitions for years to come, he’s left pretending like he’s got no capacity to make a difference.”

The RNA said it has offered A$15m to the project. “This major upgrade to existing facilities plans to deliver a modern 20,000-seat fully accessible venue through the restoration of the heritage grandstands, plus a contemporary replacement of Machinery Hill,” said chief executive Brendan Christou. 

“The RNA believes this upgrade will provide major benefits for the entire community from rural, regional and remote Queensland to metropolitan areas, providing a great legacy for future generations to come.”

In a statement, Brisbane Lions CEO, Greg Swann, added: “It’s pleasing this process is finally moving forward and the Government supports the RNA option as a displacement solution for the Lions.

“Naturally, a displacement of four or more years represents a major upheaval to the Lions as a club, our fans and members, and we need to ensure we’re as strong as possible to return to the Gabba when it is complete. 

“As the Government has said, today is a starting point, and there is a lot of detail to work through. We will continue dialogue with Government and other stakeholders regarding progressing the RNA as quickly as possible to ensure the project can be funded and the club is supported through displacement.”

Queensland Government said input from Cricket Queensland, Cricket Australia, Brisbane Lions and the AFL has been “critical” to the investigation of temporary playing venues for Gabba hirers.

Indeed, the move to the Showgrounds will be an historic homecoming for cricket. In 1928, the Main Arena was where Australian cricketing icon, Sir Donald Bradman, made his international debut at Queensland’s first international Test.