End of the road - V8s in Hamilton
Hamilton revels in, then loses, its biggest sporting event this weekend. Daniel Adams reports.
For all the preoccupation with its costs, the V8 Supercars will again fill the city's bars, motels and restaurants, and put the city's tree-lined streets up in lights across Australasia.
Other Waikato businesses will also profit: the race's Australian promoters have revealed $4 million worth of contracts went to local companies this year alone.
Hospitality operators are unequivocal about the benefits, explaining how, over the past five years, they've learned that race supporters spend a lot and behave themselves.
It's a weekend when bar owners expect their takings to double and hotel owners fill every available bed as tens of thousands of motorsport fans flock to Frankton.
The most bullish estimates suggest the race will have had a $100m economic impact on the Waikato by the end of the event. Grudging observers might halve that figure.
When this year's winner hoists the Mark Porter trophy aloft, few will be thinking of the political scalps it has claimed, or the race-related debt the city will be paying for years. The story of Hamilton's infatuation with the V8s begins, and will end, with cheers.
In early 2006, when city councillors were called in by then mayor Michael Redman and city council chief executive Tony Marryatt, they had no idea what was coming.
The pair were at the heart of negotiating a deal to bring the high-profile V8s to the streets of Hamilton - a bombshell that propelled motorsport-mad councillor Grant Thomas to his feet and impressed even notorious penny-pincher Roger Hennebry.
Competing interests for the race - Auckland and Wellington have strong motorsport-hosting pedigrees - were a key reason for the secret courtship of race promoters.
The country's largest city and its capital both failed to get bids to the starting line.
Still fresh from sweeping to power and following years of destructive council politics, public infighting and a string of one-term mayors, Redman had shown his worth. In a stunning coup, he became a mayor who could deliver something positive. But what happened from there was essentially a meltdown under the bonnet.
While the wider public still beamed with pride at seeing their city secure the street race, the event's financial wheels were already starting to wobble behind the scenes.
The event's $7m pricetag eventually ballooned by another $30m, and its economic benefits have become a political football, dominated by estimates and anecdotes.
The race meant to gild the city's reputation has instead tarnished it. Touted economic returns have been overshadowed by costs and the race has become both a platform for a successful mayoral campaign and a prod for local government spending reforms.
Reputations have been shredded like racing tyres pushed beyond their limits. Some city councillors' hopes of re-election are badly dented if not done for. Redman's career was stopped dead. And the city's finance boss, Blair Bowcott, has since twice been demoted.
Redman acknowledged last year that the absolute costs of the street race were never properly reported, but he was as "surprised as anybody'' when the full costs emerged.
"There were a number of things that could have been done better, but this was an event that was hugely successful for Hamilton. The cost clearly escalated on council and I think council did a good job managing those issues. The issue here is for six years, management had the support of the elected members. After the 2010 election, that support disappeared and management were left holding the baby,'' he said last year.
The future of the event was always uncertain once Mayor Julie Hardaker was elected in 2010. Her campaign strongly exploited speculation that the V8 costs had exploded. While publicly her line was that the city's contract must be honoured, her caveat that any contract could be broken by mutual agreement became a portent of its demise.
The event and the mayor were always an uncomfortable fit - motorsport fans jeered her presence during the podium presentation last year before the exit deal was done.
A photograph taken by a Waikato Times photographer as the mayor and V8 Supercars boss Shane Howard explained the exit to media seemed to perfectly capture that unease.
The deal remains an ugly end to the city's affair and then its falling-out with the big race.
Having spent $18m building a demanding street circuit and infrastructure to host the race, most of the city's politicians buckled and gave it all away for a paltry $1.2m.
The lessons Hamilton so painfully learned may well be of benefit elsewhere. Talk of resurrecting a New Zealand round elsewhere - most likely Auckland - has been accompanied by word of a new arrangement between organisers and the councils of host cities: organisers are to be responsible for the entire cost and will wear any losses.
- © Fairfax NZ News