Stadium anchor project faces a stormy sea

MIKE YARDLEY
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014
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OPINION: The Crusaders have their first hit-out next week with a fresh Super Rugby season fast approaching.

But with billowing concerns over the Christchurch City Council's financial health and a gaping shortfall in anticipated insurance proceeds, does the stadium anchor project find itself on a particularly sticky wicket?

Under the binding cost-sharing agreement, the ratepayer is obliged to stump up $253 million for the 35,000-seat covered central city stadium, due for completion in 2017.

We are the rugby powerhouse of New Zealand. Christchurch deserves a future-proofed, multi-use stadium facility, befitting a reconstructed city. But is this lightning rod anchor project about to be the target of an orchestrated eradication? Enter Cr Glenn Livingstone. He is courting support to get the entire project axed. So how do the major players see it? Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee tells me he expects the council to honour the cost-sharing agreement. Brownlee is loath to see it selectively revisited and unpicked.

However, after some prodding, he conceded that once the full state of the council's books and insurance shortfall was known, he was open to "having a look" at reviewing some aspects of the facility. Chamber of Commerce head Peter Townsend believes there needs to be a detailed analysis of priority, timing, size and relevance, with a flexible approach adopted.

Recently, Crusaders chairman Murray Ellis was reported as saying that without a 35,000-seat stadium "it would be difficult to retain the franchise in Christchurch".

Hmm, the rattle of blackmail, anyone? Crusaders' chief executive Hamish Riach confirms he's unaware of any plans to relocate.

Riach makes a very telling point about the benefits of securing the stadium, as an anchor project. If the council puts the project on ice indefinitely, the ratepayer would no longer be buttressed by the Government's financial support for the project. But most revealingly of all, Riach confirmed that he'd agree to a lower permanent capacity, as long as a temporary seating provision could attract tier one tests, given the council's financial predicament.

Lowering the council's capital costs for the stadium is surely where this issue is headed. Based on the previous council's estimates, lowering the permanent capacity to 30,000 would save $35m.

Delaying the addition of the roof would slash a further $70m from the bill - if the council coffers were in major trouble. The council's new finance committee chairman, Raf Manji, believes there are many options to consider, once the insurance position is settled.

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But there's actually no need for blood-rushing, a la Livingstone. As Manji points out, the stadium's business case isn't due for sign off by the Crown until June 2016.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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