New tactics to put Rugby Park in the black

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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Rugby Park could be pulled from the red into the black as the city council looks to diversify its uses.

Rugby Southland will not have rule of the roost if the council takes over Rugby Park, with conferences, more community events and even 21st birthday parties on the cards.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said Rugby Southland had "tended to focus on rugby," but with the council looking at taking over the stadium, more sports and groups would have the opportunity to use the facility.

"Everyone is a part of the council but not everyone is part of rugby union."

Mr Shadbolt said if the council ran Rugby Park it would "make it easier" for groups to approach them and use the facility.

Rugby Southland chairman Paul Menzies said the organisation had never discouraged other sports or groups from using Rugby Park, but conceded some people thought it was solely for rugby. "It's probably historical."

Rugby Southland would be more than happy to work with the council if it took over Rugby Park and he believed more groups would take up the chance because the council was already prepared to promote different facilities in the city.

"The council may be able to spread their wings further than we can."

That sentiment was shared by Southland Outdoor Stadium Trust chairman Ian Tulloch.

The trust, which owns Rugby Park, subcontracted management of the park to Rugby Southland and they had allowed some other sports to use the facility, he said.

However, several years ago that was not the case.

Mr Tulloch said he believed that with the council's resources and venue management team already in place, it may be able to make money from the facility.

Invercargill City Council finance and corporate services director Dean Johnston said that was a strong possibility and the council was aiming to make the facility "at least" break even.

The council was looking at several options to enhance the park and improve its money-making ability. Maintenance at the park is estimated to cost about $200,000 a year.

But Mr Johnston said he believed the council could recoup that through conferences at the stadium, 21st birthday parties and community events.

"We can actually start hiring it out more. There's a lot of good rooms in there."

Rugby Southland had probably suffered from lower turnout at rugby games during seasons when sports teams weren't winning, but the rise of other sports could help boost the stadium, he said.

"They haven't been as friendly to other sports but that's because they are trying to run a sport."

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The trust owes about $600,000 to Rugby Southland for management fees of the stadium and the council is in talks about covering the debt as part of the takeover.

Yesterday, Mr Johnston said the debt owed to Rugby Southland by the Outdoor Stadium Trust would be sorted through "arrangements".

"I can't see us writing a cheque out for it, I would hate to think that we would write a cheque out for it. At the end of the day, it's an important facility to the community."

It was likely the issue would be discussed at next month's city council meeting.

- The Southland Times

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