Cloud over future of Rugby Park Stadium

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2014

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The Southland Outdoor Stadium Trust is surviving month to month and the Community Trust of Southland may be lumped with Rugby Park and its associated debt if a bailout plan is not found soon.

The stadium trust, chaired by Ian Tulloch, called a mystery meeting last week with the Invercargill Licensing Trust, Community Trust of Southland and Invercargill City Council.

The three groups were reluctant to comment about the meeting, which was "held in confidence" about Rugby Park Stadium, and some leaders would not even confirm their attendance.

However, The Southland Times understands that Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and Deputy Mayor Darren Ludlow, along with city council chief executive Richard King attended, as well as licensing trust chairman Alan Dennis, general manager Greg Mulvey and marketing manager Gary Muir, and Community Trust of Southland chairman Tracy Hicks and chief executive John Prendergast.

While several options were discussed for the home of the Southland Stags, the favoured option would involve the Community Trust of Southland forfeiting the $750,000 loan owed by the stadium trust and the licensing trust covering the debt owed to Pacific Dawn Ltd, which is just over $100,000.

The city council would then look at footing the bill to Rugby Southland for about $600,000 before taking over the Tweed St facility and running it as part of its asset portfolio.

But Mr Prendergast said the trust was still looking to recoup its loan from the stadium trust and had no plans to change it into a grant.

The community trust was trying to build up its capital, he said.

The loan is secured against the Rugby Park building and that could mean if the stadium trust were to collapse, the Community Trust of Southland could end up with the stadium and the multitude of issues it is plagued with.

Mr Prendergast said that was an "extreme end of the spectrum" and the Community Trust of Southland was looking at other options.

Mr Tulloch maintained the meeting he called was informal, "not a secret".

The trust simply needed to find a long-term solution for the stadium, which has been the heart of Southland rugby for the past 12 years, he said.

Mr Tulloch confirmed they were running on cashflow from month to month, relying on the payments of corporate box income to get them through.

The stadium was fully insured, he said.

The city council will be facing a daunting annual cost of $200,000 to maintain the stadium, plus the unknown cost of bringing part of the stand up to building code standards.

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Mr Shadbolt said stadiums never made money, but like other facilities around the city that the council owned and did not make money from, it was about providing a community facility.

"I have a feeling at the end of the day we are the only powerful and economically viable strength in terms of sustaining a stadium.

"I think in the long term we should lump all these venues together and just accept that they will run at a loss."

"It will be back on council's agenda."

TIMELINE

2001: Southland Outdoor Stadium Trust is formed as part of the Rugby Park redevelopment.

September 2008: The Invercargill Licensing Trust and the Community Trust of Southland announce a $1 million bailout of Rugby Southland, which is drowning in debt. Community trust chief executive John Prendergast says the bailout, which included a $750,000 loan, eases "significant" pressure on Rugby Southland and the Outdoor Stadium Trust.

June 2010: The stadium trust receives $200,000 from the Government towards a redevelopment of the park for the Rugby World Cup.

December 2010: A $750,000 redevelopment is given the green light, with $275,000 coming from the ILT Foundation.

May 2011: The stadium trust asks the council for a one-off grant of $75,000 to improve the ground and $200,000 a year for maintenance.

June 2011: The council agrees to the one-off grant to improve the grounds for the Rugby World Cup.

March 2012: Invercargill Licensing Trust and the ILT Foundation rule out giving the trust any more funding, but the stadium trust is $1m in debt and requires $200,000 a year for maintenance.

March 2012: The stadium trust approaches the city council informally asking it to take over Rugby Park and the trust's debts.

June 2012: The council decides not to take over ownership of the park or provide financial assistance to the stadium trust.

November 2013: Mayor Tim Shadbolt announces the council is again considering taking over Rugby Park.

December 2013: The community trust discusses the loan given to the stadium trust and decides it will not be turned into a grant. 

- The Southland Times

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