$100m harbour stadium pledge reignites debate

AARON LAWTON
Last updated 05:00 13/05/2012

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Auckland's long-running waterfront stadium debate has been reignited by the new chairman of the New Zealand Warriors rugby league franchise, who is confident he can secure funding for one-third of a $300 million facility with a roof.

Former high-flying Australian executive Bill Wavish, now the Warriors chairman, challenged John Key's Government and Auckland Council to match contributions he believes he can raise from the corporate sector for a stadium in the central business district.

Wavish is a former executive chairman of Australia's Meyer Department Stores and the current chairman of Bendon Ltd.

Last week he met officials from Regional Facilities Auckland, the council-controlled organisation which manages the city's major sport and entertainment venues, to discuss the current state of the Warriors' base at Mt Smart Stadium.

Despite being earmarked for a $16m upgrade, there are fears the venue will be inadequate for the Warriors' needs in years to come.

Wavish says the Warriors don't want to move to Eden Park, where they have played twice in two seasons, but want to be the catalyst for building a central city stadium where they would be an anchor tenant.

The suggestion is sure to resume the debate over whether Eden Park, upgraded at a cost of more than $240m for last year's Rugby World Cup, should remain the city's premier football venue or if Auckland should follow Dunedin's example and build a boutique roofed stadium.

"I've said to the council: `Why don't we ask the Government to give us $100 million, you give us $100 million and through private enterprise, we'll find the other $100 million, and let's give Auckland a stadium the city deserves,"' Wavish told the Sunday Star-Times in his first interview since becoming chairman of the Owen Glenn and Eric Watson-owned Warriors in March.

A proposal to build a $500m waterfront stadium for last year's Rugby World Cup was spiked by Helen Clark's Government in 2006 as nothing more than a pipe dream and money was instead invested in renovating Eden Park.

Most people thought that was the end of that. Not Wavish.

"The view is that the opportunity has gone. But I think it's got to come back at some time. We are going to keep talking about it because it's got to have its moment.

"I can look after my third of it. Everybody is telling me not to be so stupid. But why should Dunedin get a new stadium and Auckland can't?

"We are an international city and we deserve it. If we are going to play winter sports then I think we ought to have something that can be covered. If there's a will, there's a way."

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However, Robert Domm, head of Regional Facilities Auckland, said Auckland already boasts three stadiums – Mt Smart, Eden Park and North Harbour Stadium – and the prospect of building another would be "a very long-term proposition".

"Council may consider there are more important infrastructure priorities in Auckland than building another stadium within the next 20 years to 30 years," he said.

Wavish said that while it would be easy to give up on the idea of having a downtown stadium in Auckland after millions were spent on Eden Park, he would continue to agitate for it.

"I've talked to several people about a covered downtown stadium and it's easy to blame the past," he said.

"Before the world cup, they made a decision to build a stadium in Dunedin, which has a population of fewer than 100,000 people. But there are 1.5 million people in Auckland and they don't deserve a new stadium?

"The view is that they made a mistake to spend all that money on Eden Park and now the opportunity has passed. At some point in time, we need to face up to that and build a stadium."

The Warriors will also look at staging one-off games out of Auckland in "places like Wellington, Dunedin and Hamilton" but Wavish admitted they'd need approval to do so from RFA.

- Sunday Star Times

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