Stadium could be covered

$300,000 to shade FMG's embankment

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 08:38 13/06/2013
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Murray Wilson/Fairfax NZ
Coverup: A few dedicated Manawatu Turbos supporters at FMG Stadium during some wild weather. Stadium users say the area need to be sheltered.

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A high-profile Palmerston North businessman, who says letting crowds at FMG Stadium sit in the rain during events is ''ridiculous'',  has hatched a plan to get the city's largest event venue covered up.

Paul O'Brien said he had been attending events at FMG Stadium for the past four decades, including stockcars and rugby matches, but has always been bothered by the uncovered embankment.

''I have been sitting, either in the rain or observing people in the rain, for the last four decades thinking 'this is just ridiculous'.''

The venue hosts the Superstock Teams Championships, which contribute about $1.1 million to the local economy, smaller speedway events and the Manawatu Turbos rugby team.

Mr O'Brien had contractors cost out how much money would be needed to cover the embankment area directly opposite the grandstand.

He was quoted a figure of about $300,000, which he said was similar to what the Palmerston North City Council was considering contributing to a Lido project.

The contribution was towards an offer by QEII to install $2m waterslides at the aquatic centre, something Mr O'Brien said was not as important as speedway was to the city.

''It's a big economic driver for the region. The question needs to be  asked - how many decades before a cover gets put on it?''

Arena Manawatu manager David Walsh said the council had recently allocated funding for a strategic review of the entire facility, including FMG Stadium.

The review was timed so any plans could be included in the next long-term plan, which will be implemented in 2015, he said.

The review would involve talking to arena users - like speedway and rugby organisers - seeing how other stadiums operated and how the facility could be improved to attract and retain events.

Mr Walsh said he knew the standard people expected of entertainment facilities had risen, and all aspects of Arena Manawatu needed to be up to scratch.

''When people go along, they want to be wined and dined and watch it like it was from the comfort of their own home."

Palmerston North Speedway promoter Bruce Robertson said the weather had a huge say in the number of casual sales.

''If the weather is doubtful people think twice about coming out.

''They just stay at home and watch TV.

''If there was some way to make it more comfortable, people would appreciate it.''

But since there was no mention of it in any of Palmerston North City Council's long-term plans, the status quo was likely to stay, he said.

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Venues in other cities were being upgraded to keep attracting new events, and the same should be happening here, he said.

''People say the arena is the jewel in the crown of Palmerston North, but there is no investment in new infrastructure.''

Manawatu Rugby chief executive John Knowles said he had gone to council to try to get some money set aside for a cover, but his idea was given the boot.

''They said there was no money.''

Ticket sales for matches were hit hard if the weather packed in, he said.

''They need wind protection as much as rain.

''It is very exposed for the public to sit out there.''

Mr Knowles said there were cost-effective options, such as the stretch material being used to cover the temporary AMI Stadium in Canterbury.

''At the end of the day, if cost is an issue it can be staged.''

- Manawatu Standard

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