No taxpayer funding for waterfront stadium

Eden Park (file)
Eden Park (file)

Prime Minister John Key has ruled out any taxpayer funding for a proposed new stadium on the Auckland waterfront.

Council-controlled organisation Regional Facilities Auckland has reignited the idea, which was considered before the 2011 Rugby World Cup (RWC) but ditched in favour of more investment into Eden Park.

Speaking on the Paul Henry programme this morning, Mr Key said the Government had "no appetite" for sinking more money into an Auckland stadium, after spending nearly $200 million to upgrade Eden Park before the RWC.

"At a time when Auckland needs other infrastructure, turning around and saying the waterfront stadium's a priority would look a bit weird to Aucklanders -- and the rest of the country."

Though opposed to spending taxpayers' money on a new stadium, Mr Key is open to private investors giving it a shot.

Rich lister Eric Watson, who owns the Warriors rugby league side, says it would be "very interesting" to a lot of people he knows.

"The world sees Auckland as a growth city, an aspirational city, a city to invest in," he told Paul Henry from London. "Auckland's not particularly leveraged, if you look at the total value that's assets, and it's a high-growth opportunity to invest in a stadium -- properly organised, properly managed and surrounded with other commercial activities."

Eden Park's fatal flaw is its location -- though close to a train station, it's surrounded by residential properties, preventing late-running events or big rock concerts. This limitation has seen it running at a loss. Mayoral candidate Phil Goff also says money isn't being set aside to account for depreciation.

"It could be up to a quarter of a billion dollars. Do we want to reinvest a quarter of a billion dollars in a stadium that's in the wrong place? Because it's right in the middle of residential areas, you can't run concerts there. It's seen as a rugby stadium, so the Warriors aren't interested.

"If we're going to have a new stadium, first of all there has to be a big event because it's going to have some Government money. Our city turned down half-a-billion dollars in 2006."

In 2006, then Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard offered $500 million in taxpayer funding for a waterfront stadium, which the now-defunct Auckland Regional Council rejected.

It would take another event of similar size to get the Government behind the waterfront stadium idea, says Mr Goff.

But there are concerns from all parties whether a 50,000-seater would be sustainable.

"If you've only got 15,000 people in a stadium for 50,000, it doesn't look flash-hot," says Mr Goff.

"If you have 25,000 seats, great if the Blues are playing; might be okay if the Warriors are playing; but once you get to an All Blacks Test match, it's just not enough," says Mr Key.

Mr Watson's business nous tells him the size of any new stadium would depend on what happens to Eden Park.

"If you're not keeping Eden Park, you probably need a Suncorp Stadium size, which is about 50,000 capacity. And you could do a lot better Suncorp -- you could have an amazing 50,000-person stadium," he says.

"If Eden Park's going to be around to cater for those very large, once- or twice-a-year opportunities, you probably have to go smaller."

Mr Watson and Mr Goff agree once built, the stadium should pay its own way.

"I'm trying to keep the ratepayer out of this as much as possible," says Mr Goff. "Is the stadium a priority over transport? No, it isn't. Get rid of Auckland's gridlock first."

"It should be self-funding. The last thing we want is what Eden Park has evolved into," says Mr Watson.

Mr Goff says Eden Park's probably only 10 or 15 years away from either needing another massive cash injection or being demolished, so planning needs to begin now.