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Waterfront? Sink that nonsense while everyone's still talking
26 November 2006

Has there ever been a weirder debate than the one on the waterfront stadium? I accepted an invitation to a television discussion on the stadium options last Thursday night with an open mind but left convinced that Eden Park was the only sensible option.

Many good people support the waterfront stadium, but the more you think about it, the more you are staggered by the effrontery of the effort to drive it.

Cut the literally bewildering scale of the project (the Sydney Opera House would easily fit on the grass inside the proposed stadium) down to house size, and ask yourself if any homeowner would tell a builder to go ahead if he outlined these conditions:

A. I can't give you a firm quote but it will be dearer than my estimate. Trevor Mallard says the $500 million figure for the waterfront stadium will obviously go up.

B. I can only give you a sketch plan. It's too early to have any details for costing. The Eden Park figure of $385 million is fully costed. Because there are no detailed plans, the waterfront costs can only be estimated.

C. Nobody anywhere in the world has ever built a house this size in this situation. The San Francisco baseball stadium that is home for the Giants has sea views but was built on land. There are no stadiums built over water.

D. Yeah, sure, it will finish on time. As there's nothing really to compare the waterfront project to, it could be built on time. Or not.

E. I've only had this idea for a few months, so you need to make up your mind and commit in a fortnight, OK? A fortnight to decide? Hell, the average homeowner would take more time to decide on the style of windows than Auckland has been given to mull over the stadium.

F. No, you can't see detailed plans. I've already told you, we don't have any.

I wouldn't profess to be a student of body language, but it was fascinating to sit four seats along from Trevor Mallard at Eden Park as he answered questions on the waterfront option.

Mallard didn't falter with the words, but he couldn't make them feel convincing. The famous Hunter S Thompson line that 1972 presidential candidate Edmund Muskie was like a terminally ill farmer trying to borrow money on next year's crops sprang to mind.

Mallard knows, as many in Auckland do, that the golden chance for a downtown stadium was several years ago, when the Auckland central railway yards were available for development. Instead, we got an indoor arena, and a mish-mash of fast food outlets.

A stadium with elbow room, no residential housing to worry about, built next to a railway station? That blindingly obvious recipe for success was, stymied, of course, by the fact that negotiating your way through Auckland local body politics is a bit like a being a naked man in a razor blade factory. You have to move very, very carefully, and you'd still be lucky to emerge in one piece.

It is a tragedy better use wasn't made of what's now called Quay Park. But that opportunity was squandered, just as visionary mayor Dove-Myer Robinson's light rail scheme was rejected four decades earlier.

There's a real need now, as NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs said from Cardiff, to get a decision made quickly, before the enmities of the last fortnight get locked in, fester and wreck the feel- good factor that events like the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cups engender.

Many rugby fans, like me, can see that the waterfront should be for everyone to use, not just us, while Eden Park has an historic, sentimental bonus to go with the practical benefits.

So far most can laugh about differences.

At Eden Park on Thursday night Waka Nathan was bemused when he discovered that, while he was for the waterfront stadium, his great coach with Auckland and the All Blacks, Fred Allen, was a strong supporter of Eden Park.

"When did Fred say that?" "About a week ago." "Damn. He'll be after me."

The government should fold the waterfront tent, and lock in Eden Park, while there's still some humour in the situation.