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Eden Park - the fortress no one wants

The future of Eden Park, once again the scene of history three nights ago, is so dire financially the Government wants to wash its hands of the venue completely and the Auckland Council is not keen to be given control.  

It is not quite a case of an asset so bad you can't give it away, but it is close. 

The Eden Park Trust Board owes around $40 million to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the council is the sole guarantor of that debt. Mayor Phil Goff has already speculated publicly that it needs $250m spent on it in coming years and is having a downtown replacement investigated. The council wants to talk to Wellington about "how best to manage the intervening years for Eden Park, and if agreed, the future use of the site"

The council chief has even speculated that a new "national stadium" would be able to cater for a future Rugby World Cup "or similar major sporting event."

The so-called Eden Park Fortress could fall, not at the hands of foreign rugby teams but by debts and the constraints put on it by local residents.

Information obtained by Newsroom reveals the government wants no more to do with Eden Park. In a joint offer, it wants to pass control to the Council and also to gift its $10m half-ownership interest in Queens Wharf (another World Cup venue) to co-owner, the Auckland C ouncil, if the city agrees to keep the $9.8m The Cloud facility in place.  

That wharf deal has been bogged down, partly by being linked to  the Eden Park stand-off and partly by the fact the council doesn't favour keeping The Cloud, which also needs upgrading, and wants instead to split the cost with the government of $6.5m to remove it from Queen's Wharf. The Team New Zealand win at the America's Cup and Auckland's likely hosting of the event in four years has further complicated the fate of the Wharf. 

The Minister for Sport and Recreation, Jonathan Coleman, has met Goff to try to unravel the issue.

The Government wrote off $190 million of taxpayers' money it spent upgrading Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup but retains control by still appointing up to five of the nine Eden Park Trust Board directors. It has offered to change the Trust Deed or the law to give that power to the Council but the Council does not want to take that responsibility on.

"This offer was based on the understanding that the Crown had no further residual or financial responsibility for the park," a departmental paper from February this year says.

Documents released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act show the council chief executive Stephen Town wrote to the government with a searing indictment on Eden Park's fate:

"You will be aware of the Mayor's stated views on Eden Park and the opportunity to create a new stadium in a more central and user friendly location," he wrote on December 7 last year.

"Despite the very generous financial contributions from the government and the council, Eden Park does not have a viable long-term future as it is not able to fund depreciation or pay down its debt while its operating environment remains constrained. 

"The constraints are complex and varied, ranging from community opposition to night time events through to an unwillingness from some major codes to play at Eden Park.

"As a consequence we do not believe Eden Park can trade its way out of the current situation without ongoing financial support from either the government or the Council, and even then the stadium will continue to have limited use."

Eden Park officials have taken to calling it New Zealand's national stadium. Photo: Getty Images

Instead, the council wants the government to join it and the private sector in investigating a new national stadium, presumably the one on former waterfront railway land near the Spark Arena, favoured by Goff and subject now of a study being made by accounting firm PwC. Its findings are due back "mid-year."

"The council is open to having a discussion on how we move forward. Auckland requires a stadium of an approppriate size that has the capacity to host events that are not severely constrained by locality or consenting conditions. Auckland is also the natural choice to host New Zealand's national stadium, which would cater for a future Rugby World Cup or similar major sporting event.," Town wrote.

Part of the reason the Auckland Council hasn't jumped at taking on full responsibility for Eden Park is that by having the right to appoint the majority of trustees it would have additional legal obligations in governance and finance under the Local Government Act, given that the stadium would effectively become another Council Controlled Organisation.

Interestingly, Eden Park has taken to calling itself "New Zealand's national stadium" in digital signage which played around the final Lions vs All Blacks test on Saturday night.

Documents for ministers prepared by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show the former sports minister Murray McCully had first put the Eden Park-Queen's Wharf combo deal to former Auckland Mayor Len Brown. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage had supported McCully's efforts to "resolve legislative and ownership issues associated with the governance arrangements for Eden Park."

Goff was not available yesterday as he is preparing for his father's funeral.  However he has previously raised the $250 million extra that will need to be spent on Eden Park over the next 15 years and told the New Zealand Herald in March, after further negotiations with Coleman: "This is not something I see as being a priority burden on ratepayers."

Towns' office said last night the council and government were still in discussions on the governance of Eden Park.

The park's white elephant status - a 50,000-seat stadium limited to 21 night events a year - means its place in history, fortress and all, could soon be as a piece of history.

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