new auckland

Stadium-for-stadium deal mooted by secretive consortium

A private consortium planning a new Auckland waterfront stadium is believed to have suggested it be given rights to develop a defunct Eden Park for housing as part of a deal with the city and Government.

The possibility of the business group being handed the keys to Eden Park and its nine hectares of land as a kind-of quid pro quo for providing the costly waterfront stadium has arisen in discussions between some of the parties.

It is understood the consortium, whose members’ identities have been kept secret, will go public with its plans soon, possibly as early as today.

Newsroom revealed the stadium plan on Wednesday, and disclosed the strict secrecy provisions imposed by the consortium through non-disclosure agreements when it gave details on its project.

However, one source with awareness of the talks told Newsroom: “The Eden Park thing has been mentioned.”

Another said such a housing development deal could be one way for the business people to make some money back, as a stadium alone would be a challenging investment.

It is understood the Eden Park housing redevelopment part of the equation has been canvassed in broad terms with Housing Minister Phil Twyford, but he did not respond last night to a request for comment. [Update: Twyford's office has now confirmed he has received correspondence on the project "but not a formal proposal"And "he has no comment to make on this".]

The Sports Minister Grant Robertson would say to Newsroom only that “we are aware of the fact that there is a proposal and are keeping tabs on progress”. Robertson has not been personally briefed by the consortium.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff confirmed his Council had been approached about a “national stadium” on the waterfront funded privately and would look forward to public feedback when something was more advanced.

Any deal involving the transfer of Eden Park’s land and assets to a developer would be complex. The park is administered by a trust under a specific statute. Parliament would need to pass legislation and the trust’s affairs would need to be sorted, with compensation possible for organisations like Auckland Rugby and Auckland Cricket, which benefit from the current set-up.

The value of the Eden Park land is hard to quantify, especially if a developer wanted to demolish and remove the grandstand buildings. One property source made a guesstimate that the final development could be valued at up to half a billion dollars but other similar sized city blocks developed for retirement villages and the like have been valued at the low hundreds of millions.

The Eden Park No. 2 land bordering Sandringham Road would likely meet zoning requirements for apartment buildings, and its carparks could carry further residential accommodation.

Whatever gain the consortium had from a deal over Eden Park would amount to only a portion of the value, however, of the cost of a waterfront stadium which a report by consultants PwC this year put at up to $1.5 billion.

Redeveloping Eden Park would require a planning masterplan and consultation with neighbours and affected parties.

If the stadium-for-stadium plan does progress past the current early stages, it could help solve two problems for the Government and the council: a site for extensive house building for a house-hungry city and a means of funding a new stadium without extra debt or charges on ratepayers and taxpayers.

Eden Park has long been constrained by being a major arena stuck in the middle of a residential area – and has failed repeatedly to use planning procedures to get more night events and rock concerts.

It is not in a good position financially, hampered by depreciation costs and the planning rules, and neither the council, which is guarantor to a loan or the Crown, which appoints directors to the trust under the law, seem to have the appetite to commit to its future.

The waterfront site, with the stadium proposed to be sunk into the reclaimed land on Bledisloe Wharf owned by the Ports of Auckland, would also face major planning and infrastructure challenges. The port company will not comment on the stadium proposal, and in reality, it would be up to its owner, Auckland Council, to force the issue.

However, a way of creating a new stadium on the waterfront is clearly favoured by city power brokers. An alternative site beyond the Spark Arena on former railway land now owned by Ngāti Whātua Orākei had been favoured by Goff in the past.

The waterfront option is seen as a big plus for the central business district and tourism. Other options being aired for the consortium to raise revenue from the project would be incorporating retail stores and a hotel within the new stadium precinct.

After Newsroom revealed the privately-funded stadium proposal yesterday there was much talk in local government and business circles as to who is behind the plan. One insider was so mindful of the non-disclosure agreement that there was apprehension in even confirming the consortium’s legal advisers.

But Ngāti Whātua’s investment arm may well be involved, with one of its advisers, the Vector Ltd energy chairman Michael Stiassny’s name being mentioned by one public official. 

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