Why Christchurch needs a multi-purpose arena downtown

MPA TRUST/Fairfax NZ

This vision of what a multi-purpose arena for Christchurch might look like was released this week.It comes from the MPA Trust, chaired by former Olympic hockey player and International Olympic Committee member Barry Maister.

OPINION: Rugby? Yeah nah. It's our national game and missing out on World Cup games in 2011 was a blow, but Christchurch people had other things on their mind. When you were faced with losing your home or battling to repair it because of the most devastating earthquake to hit the country in 80 years, well, rugby suddenly didn't seem to be the number one priority.

Fixing people's homes, fixing infrastructure, and putting the city back on its feet mattered; long-term grand plans, like a sports stadium or a convention centre, might be nice to have but could be put on the backburner.

As it happened, a temporary stadium was built in Addington where fans could watch their beloved Crusaders thunder to yet another victory. It could even host concerts.

Rendering of a potential multi-purpose arena for Christchurch.
Thom Craig Architect

Rendering of a potential multi-purpose arena for Christchurch.

Lancaster Park had been home to both rugby and cricket for more than a century. It had hosted big concerts – Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Dire Straits, U2, and more. The stadium was stuffed, but many believed it could be rebuilt.

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Unfortunately not. An authoritative report last year put paid to that. Instead, a concept first launched over four years ago for a multi-purpose arena on a brand new site – the former Turners and Growers site in the central city – is looking more and more like a winner.

The proposal for a multi-purpose arena could include  apartments, hotels, retail, restaurants, cafes, and bars, making ...
Thom Craig Architect

The proposal for a multi-purpose arena could include apartments, hotels, retail, restaurants, cafes, and bars, making the facility a 365 day a year draw-card.

I first wrote about the concept after meeting former Lancaster Park Board adviser Geoff Saunders and architect Thom Craig back in 2013. I wrote that I thought it was a great idea that deserved to succeed. It still does, and here's why.

Saunders' and Craig's concept is masterly. Instead of a single-purpose sports stadium, Craig has designed a true multi-purpose arena (MPA, or in Maori, Taiwhanga Hakinakina). Instead of hosting a big match every other week for only part of the year, and otherwise standing empty, it includes a whole lot more.

The design features possible commercial and accommodation functions, such as apartments, hotels, and office space; a gym and sauna; retail, restaurants, cafes, and bars; theatres; and a national sports museum (presumably with a wall or two free for other regions besides Canterbury). The concept could also feature facilities for art and education, and medical and health facilities. The specifics have not yet been decided but would depend on a robust business case.

The MPA Trust's proposal includes a stadium for 30,000 to 35,000 people, double the capacity of the temporary AMI Stadium.
Thom Craig Architect

The MPA Trust's proposal includes a stadium for 30,000 to 35,000 people, double the capacity of the temporary AMI Stadium.

The MPA gas also been dubbed the "People's Place". It would be a magnet for visitors and locals alike in the heart of a burgeoning central city. New apartments and townhouses on the city's East Frame are finally becoming a reality.

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The MPA could be a transport hub, serving buses, cars, and potentially, light rail. Of course, the Bus Exchange is not far away, making the arena easy to reach on foot. Accessibility has been a major drawback to the Addington AMI Stadium, with lack of parking and congested streets causing stress.

The MPA arena would be large enough for big matches and big concerts, with seating for 30,000 to 35,000 people. That's an optimum size to accommodate All Blacks tests. The Addington AMI Stadium seats 18,000. Horncastle Arena just 7000.

Then there is the look and aesthetic appeal of the place. Steel girders and trestle seats were a great practical way to build a temporary stadium in a hurry, but they hardly shout "major city sporting and events venue". Craig's design would be something to be proud of. Craig says activities are housed "within a modular framework of steel and concrete that is enclosed with glass and a secondary "skin" or "cloak" (korowai) protection. This fabric (cloak/weave) is a climatic layer that provides solar/privacy options as well as a dynamic, cultural "billboard".

Craig calls the design "a unique and iconic statement for Christchurch". Our city needs dynamic and exciting architecture. Let's bring it on. 

Naturally cost is a factor, and the projected price tag originally estimated $520 million was intended to be met 50/50 by central and local government. The Government has already purchased the land. However, it is not a straightforward equation. The cost of not having a big stadium must be factored in. British singer Ed Sheeran chose to go to Dunedin, not Christchurch. Then there's rugby. Originally, authorities wanted a stadium to be open for this year's Lions tour. Christchurch has missed out on hosting a test match. Again. And it will continue to miss out.

So where is the plan at? A "pre-feasibility" study is underway and should be completed by the end of July. The MPA Trust, chaired by highly respected sports administrator Barry Maister, and including Saunders and Craig as trustees, has been set up. Another body, the Christchurch Stadium Trust, has also been exploring options. These two bodies need to join forces and agree on a single plan.

Both Mayor Lianne Dalziel and the Minister Supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, Nicky Wagner, have expressed support for the proposal.

It's time to move on from the anguish of the earthquakes and for organisations and the wider community to get behind an idea whose time has come.

Freelance journalist David Killick wrote this for the MPA Trust.

 - Stuff

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