Stadium-upgrade review now a priority

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014

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A multi-million dollar upgrade of Westpac Stadium is being investigated by Wellington City Council at the same time as plans progress for a 12,000-seat boutique sports stadium in Petone.

But Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said the next priority for the region should be a covered 12,000-seat concert venue.

Lower Hutt ratepayers are being asked to pay $25 million of the estimated $45m-$48m cost of a sports stadium at the Petone Recreation Ground. The owners of Wellington Phoenix, and other parties, wouldpay with the rest.

Under the plan, the Petone arena would become the Phoenix's home base. It is also thought likely that Wellington Lions and some Hurricanes rugby fixtures would be played at the ground.

Wellington City Council sport and recreation spokesman Paul Eagle has asked council officers to explore all possible sites in Wellington for a boutique stadium, as well as investigating an upgrade of the 15-year-old Westpac Stadium.

Financial assistance for an upgrade could come from the Phoenix owners, he said. "Let's look at the layout and look at how we can get the seating and other amenities around it to make it more intimate."

Part of the investigation should include retractable seating and the installation of a roof at the stadium, which he said was in the "best possible location" for the region.

If Lower Hutt ratepayers paid $25m for the Petone arena, they would be funding a regional asset, like Westpac Stadium, at a time when some form of super-city amalgamation was likely, Mr Eagle said. "It would be irresponsible of us to let other cities duplicate some of the infrastructure we've already got."

He called on the Phoenix owners not to be tempted by "carrots being dangled in front of them" from Lower Hutt. "Let us first exhaust the possibilities [of keeping the club based in Wellington]."

Wellington City Council provided a $15m non-recourse loan, essentially a grant, in 1998 to help pay for the $130m Westpac Stadium. It was funded through general borrowings.

At the same time, the regional council gave a $25m non-recourse loan, to be repaid at $2.6m a year by all ratepayers in the Wellington region by mid-2018.

The stadium has since stood on its own feet financially, and is funding a series of improvements. The latest is a new mezzanine lounge, opening in a few weeks.

Ms Wilde said there did not appear to be "any great appetite" from individual councils to put more money into Westpac Stadium, although they were welcome to do so.

She was unsure whether the $25m being asked of Lower Hutt ratepayers by backers of the proposed Petone arena could be funded by all regional ratepayers, like Westpac Stadium.

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"I have no idea, but without a business case it wouldn't get anywhere. There is no feasibility study, there is no business case that I know of."

In her view, a boutique sports stadium was not the first priority for the region. "The next thing I suggest we [Wellington Inc] look at is a covered concert venue for about 12,000. If we are going to do anything regionally, we should do that.

"I have no idea how it would be funded or where it would be built but . . . it would probably need to be easily accessible by people all over the region, on a transport route."

- The Dominion Post

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