Caution advised on plan for new stadium

JIM CHIPP
Last updated 11:48 25/02/2014

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In front of Hutt councillors considering the 2014/15 annual plan tomorrow, the Communities Facilities Trust, which is working with Phoenix and Gareth Morgan, will put a pitch for $25m of Lower Hutt rates money to go into a $48m stadium on Petone Rec. We asked event promoters what they think.

Building a new medium-sized stadium in Petone would not cure the ills of Wellington Phoenix and it's not what the region needs, event promoters say.

Broadcaster and Hutt Valley sports administrator Ken Laban said the Hurricanes' average crowd was 28,000 people at Westpac Stadium not long ago and the Phoenix filled it for the playoffs.

"Those kinds of crowds and passionate support, we haven't seen in recent times," he said.

"That in itself begs some questions."

Wellington's population was stable and participation numbers in weekend sport were still high.

"That's what has brought this debate to the forefront.

"What can we do to get those fans who used to come, to come back?"

The major challenge was the fan base, not the size of stadium, he said.

"They are deluding themselves if they think they can grow their fan base by going to a smaller stadium. That's just giving up."

Sports promoter Arthur Klap once proposed a 12,000-seat stadium for Fraser Park as part of an unsuccessful Wellington bid for the Commonwealth Games, but he too was cool on the idea of a similar stadium for Petone.

"I can understand a desire to have a medium-sized stadium that is a bit more cost-effective and certainly, from an atmosphere point of view, better," he said.

He was cautious about a large investment of public money.

"Really the issue with Wellington Phoenix is with atmosphere and getting enough people in there, rather than the pitch is not good enough or the facilities aren't good enough," he said.

"I would certainly be looking at ways of making Westpac Stadium more cost-effective."

As a sports event promoter he thought the greater need was for a good indoor venue that could house basketball and netball, with a reasonable capacity for spectators.

Concert promoter Phil Sprey agreed, saying the ideal arena site would be the waterfront "log farm".

Petone would be his second choice site for the region, but it was always likely to be hindered by the lack of five-star accommodation for performers.

"I don't think the motel on the corner is going to cut it," he said.

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said the region hosts occasional events where a 12,000-seat stadium would be fantastic and sometimes a 5000-seat stadium would be ideal.

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"Once in a while we're chasing a Lions game and we'd probably like 60,000 seats," he said.

Although he was keen to see facilities and infrastructure that created opportunities for increasing visitor numbers, there were other questions that needed answers .

"It strikes me that perhaps we need to have a stock-take of all the regional facilities," he said. "What are the plans for the future? What are the opportunities for growth ?"

Any future new stadium or redevelopment needed to be considered in that context, he said. Editor's View - page 12

- Hutt News

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