Should a roof be put on Westpac Stadium, even if it costs ratepayers?
For years it has been labelled too expensive. Now Westpac Stadium is finally investigating getting a roof.
But if it goes ahead, it will require ratepayer money to get it over the line - and stadium chief executive Shane Harmon says the price tag would be in the "ballpark" of $60 million to $100m.
A $50,000 feasibility study, jointly funded by the stadium and Wellington City Council, will look at options for partial, full or retractable roof, and at changing the seating to better suit different events. That could possibly bring spectators closer to the action for "rectangular" field sports such as rugby and football.
Cordoning off sections of the stadium for "more intimate" events is also being investigated.
The feasibility study is in addition to a $29m revamp of the 14-year-old stadium, which included the recent opening of the new mezzanine lounge.
A roof for the stadium has long been dismissed as unaffordable, mainly because the trust that runs it has a requirement to be self-funding. Even when the latest revamp was announced, in 2012, a roof was ruled out.
But Harmon said yesterday: "We don't want the fact that we are required to be financially autonomous to limit blue-sky thinking."
The study was simply a look at what it would cost, and whether it was structurally possible. Previous work had suggested a roof would have to be standalone, as it was believed the materials used to build the stadium were not strong enough to support a ceiling.
The main benefit would be improving the spectator experience, as well as allowing more certainty in planning events and concerts, Harmon said. But any decision would be weighed next to other opportunities - such as a possible indoor arena or the boutique Petone Stadium proposal, backed by Wellington Phoenix co-owner Gareth Morgan.
"Are we going to be in a better position . . . by having a roof on the stadium or having a larger indoor arena?"
City councillor Paul Eagle, who is also a stadium trustee, said the first priority should be to look at the existing stadium, rather than other proposals such as the "ridiculous" Petone Stadium. "No other proposals should be taking place in the Wellington region without seeing what can be done at the stadium first."
The same structure that helped fund construction of the stadium - non-recourse loans from Greater Wellington Regional Council and the city council - could be used, he said.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she understood a dedicated concert arena was likely to be a better bet, but it was worthwhile looking at options for getting better use of the stadium.
Concert promoter Phil Sprey said the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin showed how valuable a roof was in attracting crowds in winter. That stadium opened in 2011 and cost $224m - and it sparked a financial review after costs blew out from the original $198m budget.
But the time to have put a roof on Westpac Stadium was when it was built, and the focus should now be on a 12,000-seat indoor venue which would better meet the demands of touring acts today, he said.
Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said the discussion was a good step towards working out what was needed in the region - whether that be a roof, or a custom-built arena.
"Knowing what we need is important - just trying to adapt what we have already got isn't always the right solution."
Wellington Rugby Football Union chief executive James Te Puni said it was important to look at all opportunities.
International architects Populous, which built the stadium as well as Forsyth Barr, will do the scoping work.
RULING OUT THE ROOF
The question of whether to put a lid on Westpac Stadium was raised when it was just a drawing on paper - but even then it was quickly dismissed because of cost.
In 1996, stadium trust chairwoman Fran Wilde said the extra $30 million required was too much.
In 2011, the idea of a roof was ruled out by former stadium chief executive David Gray, who said "it would almost be cheaper to build a new stadium than retrofit a roof", while marketing manager Steven Thompson called it a "$50 million question" that could not be justified.
In 2012, when the $29m upgrade plan for the stadium was announced, trust chairman Paul Collins said a roof would cost up to $80m, which could not be afforded without ratepayer help. "You could debate that the money would be better spent on funding a purpose-built 12,000-seat indoor arena to attract the concerts that are currently touring and bypassing Wellington."
- The Dominion Post