Phil Gifford: Let's talk about a new stadium for Christchurch

The AMI stadium at Addington was only designed to be used until this year.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The AMI stadium at Addington was only designed to be used until this year.

OPINION: Building a stadium, after the earthquake that devastated the city in 2011, seems to be the dream that dare not speak its name in Christchurch.

Work is proceeding on restoring the town hall, completing the refurbishment of the arts centre, and building a central library.

So it should. A council should always, as then mayor, Vicki Buck, told me in a 1992 interview, provide more than just sewage and rubbish collections.

Jack Goodhue and Damian McKenzie dive for the ball at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
JOHN DAVIDSON/PHOTOSPORT

Jack Goodhue and Damian McKenzie dive for the ball at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

She was talking specifically about the council providing free entertainment in Hagley Park and in Cathedral Square, which at the time was being criticised. Making people feel good about life, she believed, was important. 

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A Christchurch City Councillor, Jamie Gough, made a similar point to me this week, when he said a problem was that those against the whole idea of a stadium seemed to be looking at the cost, not the value. 

An aerial view of Lancaster Park in February, 2016.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

An aerial view of Lancaster Park in February, 2016.

To explain: If the council sold Hagley Park for housing they could pay for every project on their books. It will, of course, never happen, because the value of Hagley Park to the people who live in the city is beyond cost.

My heart aches every time I visit Christchurch, a city I grew to cherish living in for a decade, while working on radio. I still have close family and friends there. 

It was wonderful to see the spectacular city art gallery reopen in 2015. Worth the $59.6 million repair cost?

A packed Lancaster Park, then known as Jade Stadium, in 1998.
SUPPLIED

A packed Lancaster Park, then known as Jade Stadium, in 1998.

I'd say so. I look forward to the opening next year of a wonderful new central library. Worth the $60 million the council is committed to? Yes. Likewise I'm delighted the town hall will back. Worth $127.5 million? Yes. 

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Thankfully there doesn't seem to have been any great resistance to the idea of bringing back facilities like these, which bring pleasure to so many, even if far from being used by every person in Christchurch.

But the debate on a decent stadium for rugby, league, football and concerts, similar to the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin, seems to remain on a distant back burner. 

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel with National MP Nicky Wagner.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel with National MP Nicky Wagner.

Are rugby fans in Christchurch being selfish and boorish when they feel that in the rebuild they're being largely bypassed by the Christchurch City Council?

Let's consider the facts as we know them.

Who decided what projects were most important in the rebuild after the 2011 earthquake?

In June, 2013 an agreement was signed between the government and the Christchurch City Council that named 14 anchor projects. Along with the central library and the town hall, one was a "rectangular" stadium for 35,000 people.

Who was going to pay for the stadium?

Central government would provide the land, the council $253 million for the buildings.

How much would rugby contribute?

Nothing at first. When the stadium was built rugby would pay a rental fee. At the temporary AMI stadium at Addington, that's currently $1 million a year. 

But didn't rugby get a big insurance payout for Lancaster Park?

No. Rugby didn't own it. The council did. It was insured for $143 million. The insurers claimed it could be repaired for $50 million.

Eventually Lancaster Park was included in a global settlement of $635 million for all the council's insurance claims for earthquake damage.

We don't know how much of that $635 million would have been for Lancaster Park, but a safe bet is that it wasn't less than $50 million. 

Is there a risk the city council could be in for more than $253 million if there are cost over-runs?

No.

The 2013 agreement caps the council's share. Central government would be up for over-runs.

Do we know how Christchurch ratepayers feel about a new stadium?

In February 2016 a survey of 770 people conducted by the Research First company for Canterbury rugby found 94 per cent favoured a new multi-purpose stadium, and 88 per cent of those people accepted it could mean an increase in rates.

That survey is pretty startling. Can we trust it?

Yes.

Remember that the people surveyed weren't being asked about a rugby stadium, but a multi purpose stadium.

Research First, is a well regarded company, established 11 years ago, with 70 employees, which also works for central government, the Christchurch City Council, the Waikato Institute of Technology, and Canterbury University.

So does that mean politically the smart  thing would be to back a new stadium, especially a multi purpose indoor one?

Bizarrely enough, apparently not. In a debate before the 2016 council election, standing mayor, Lianne Dalziel, was reported as saying a new stadium would be "a waste of time".

Dalziel retained her mayoralty in a landslide, with an increased majority.

So when is work on the stadium planned for? 

At the moment it's on the council's agenda to start in 2022, although Mayor Dalziel has said that could be brought forward.

But if work started on Monday it'd be four to five years before an indoor stadium was built. So in reality, if they began construction next year, the stadium wouldn't open until 2022.

Why should work start before 2022 anyway?

For a start the AMI stadium at Addington was only designed to be used until this year. Last year it cost a million dollars to keep it running. And if rugby fans aren't too happy with the facilities at the place (even Grizz Wyllie doesn't go there because he finds it so uncomfortable) how badly jerked would you feel if you were a league follower?

Addington was their ground. They believed they'd get it back this year. Good luck with that.

What would a new stadium be like?

The best concept I've seen has been suggested by the Multi-Purpose Arena Trust, a group led by Olympic hockey gold medal winner, Barry Maister.

Their plan would be for a multi-use arena with facilities including exhibition and conference centre, cafes, bars, offices and hotels, medical facilities, a gym, sauna and a high performance centre.

Comments in The Press when a video was released in May called it "a joke", "ugly", and an "over priced monstrosity likely to be used about 10 times a year."

Hang on. Didn't we hear similar comments before they built an indoor stadium in Dunedin?

Yep. As just one example, in 2008 the conservationist, and former Otago council chief executive, Jolyon Manning, said "an unholy alliance of three ambitious top administrators has somehow managed to persuade Otago councils of the validity of this extraordinary extravagance.

"For all the talk about multipurpose utility, the central theme of the Dunedin Stadium is rugby. Let those who are so keen on football pay the bill."

So how is the Dunedin stadium going since it opened in 2011?

Mayor Dave Cull was opposed. Now he says that "despite reservations some of us had about the debt this would leave us with, it is gratifying the economic benefit is strong."

What economic benefit? The company managing the stadium estimates about $165 million has been injected into the local economy from spending on accommodation, hospitality, and tourist activities.

Is that all just from rugby games? Wouldn't the people spending that money all be local anyway?

No, and no.

The stadium has hosted concerts by Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon and Black Sabbath.

Next year Ed Sheeran is playing three sold out concerts there.

Terry Davies, the head of the stadium management company says more than 60 per cent of concert tickets are sold outside Dunedin. 

I'm not a ratepayer in Christchurch any more. We moved north before the earthquakes hit, so I don't have a daily, personal stake in the city's future. 

But I've never stopped loving Christchurch, and as a rugby tragic I feel for rugby followers there who are still stuck with a temporary stadium, held together, as one insider says, "by blu-tac and bits of string".

As a music lover, I'm sorry for fans who have to travel to Dunedin, or Auckland, to see the biggest stars live. 

Wouldn't it be great if the stadium could be discussed fairly? And how much better, I'd respectfully suggest, it would be if those discussions were soon, and fruitful, and the stadium moved from the back of the queue to join the A list, as was planned in 2013.

 - Sunday Star Times

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