new auckland

Secret plans for new, ‘free’ waterfront stadium

A group of business people is secretly planning a new national stadium for the Auckland waterfront, to be privately funded but standing on key port land.

Newsroom has learned the latest plan for a waterfront stadium involves this consortium building a stadium partly sunken into reclaimed land at the Bledisloe Wharf. It has been put to a range of public agencies and officials on condition they sign non-disclosure agreements.

This proposal is different from a publicly-released drawing of a partly-submerged stadium put forward by an Auckland designer and marketer Phil O'Reilly in April.

The land-based Bledisloe stadium is likely to cost many hundreds of millions, with the latest assessment of a downtown stadium by consultants PwC in May putting the price of a waterfront arena at $1.5 billion.

Funding would be from local businesses and investors, not ratepayers or taxpayers, getting past a key sticking point for the Auckland Council and Government in past proposals.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff confirmed to Newsroom late Tuesday that he knows of the plan but he did not address questions of whether he or the Council was sworn to secrecy over the details. 

“I have been approached by a private sector consortium of local businesses who are interested in building a downtown stadium," he said.

“Council is not in the position to finance a stadium through ratepayer funding and it is not on our current list of priorities.

“We are however open to considering a national stadium being funded from the private sector."

Newsroom had asked Goff about the purported venue, Bledisloe Wharf, which sits on land which is part of the Council-owned Ports of Auckland Ltd.

He said: “I would welcome public debate around the design and location of any stadium which would provide Council with valuable feedback on possible options for the future."

Mike Lee, the councillor for the Waitemata ward which includes the downtown wharf area, knew nothing of this latest plan and criticised the secrecy surrounding it. "Mr Goff needs to remember there is no such thing as a free lunch - let alone a free sports stadium."

He and others had objected in May when the PwC plan prepared for the Council was not publicly released to them but instead tightly held by the Mayor's office. "One recalls it was recently disclosed the mayor spent nearly $1m on a secret report on a stadium - at another site,"Lee said.

"Serious consideration of another stadium for Auckland right now, given Eden Park has $200m spent on it and will be fit for purpose for years to come, and we can’t afford to solve Auckland’s  growing transport and sewage problems?"

Lee said the last time he looked Bledisloe Wharf was performing an important role in the port's freight operations.

Asked about the stadium plan, a Ports of Auckland Ltd spokesman said the company had no comment.

After the PwC report Goff said he had been approached by a consortium and if a private company was willing to build, own and manage a stadium it could happen in seven years.

A stadium would need to be rectangular, with a roof and hold up to 65,000 people, Stuff reported at the time.

Since then, Newsroom understands a consortium had advanced the discussions but on condition of strict secrecy. The Bledisloe Wharf land and the idea of setting the stadium down into the reclaimed land to restrict the size of above-ground buildings, have been part of that planning.

The confidential parts of the PwC report had nominated six possible sites, but during the mayoral election of 2016, Goff suggested one venue behind Spark Arena on old railway land owned by Ngāti Whātua could be a contender.

In March last year richlister Eric Watson had expressed interest in investing in a downtown stadium, but he has since sold out of the Warriors, a team that any new stadium would have to sign to play there, with the Blues rugby side, All Black tests and regular public concerts.

One person aware of the latest stadium plans said even with all those sides signed up and regular events it would seem highly difficult for a consortium to make its money back.

The unusual secrecy around the sunken Bledisloe stadium plans has created unease in some public agencies, Newsroom has learned.

If the lure of private money to build a national stadium proves too much for Auckland Council and the Government, it could spell the end for Eden Park as a sports venue. Eden Park was redeveloped for the 2011 Rugby World Cup after a controversial and ultimately futile plan to build a waterfront stadium for up to $1 billion was launched in 2008.

The Eden Park Trust Board's financial position, hampered by the depreciation on its assets and by its location preventing rock concerts and other night events, has been of concern to both central and local government with neither wanting to take on responsibility for the park's fate.

 

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