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Spreading the cost of Eden Park
Wednesday November 29, 2006
By Bernard Orsman

Ratepayers throughout Greater Auckland could end up contributing to the $385 million Eden Park upgrade under an ambitious Government plan to pool the city's struggling stadiums into a single regional body.

The idea is contained in a Cabinet paper that led to the abandonment of a waterfront stadium on Monday, sparking a furious row over who should pay to prepare Eden Park for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The paper, written by Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard, said rationalisation of the city's major stadiums and recreation facilities would be desirable in the long term.

In the meantime, it would be "highly desirable" to place their management into a regional ownership or regional operation structure with the aim of reducing overhead costs and improving their financial viability.

"It is proposed that the finals venue for RWC 2011, including Eden Park, be incorporated into such a governance model," the paper said.

Other facilities could include Mt Smart Stadium, North Harbour Stadium and Manukau's TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre.

Mr Mallard has gone to ground and is not answering any stadium questions before he meets Auckland councils to thrash out a funding package for Eden Park by December 13.

The Herald wanted to ask Mr Mallard if ratepayers throughout Greater Auckland would contribute to Eden Park if the Sandringham ground was put into a regional body. At present, only Auckland City's 162,000 ratepayers look set to contribute.

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee yesterday welcomed Mr Mallard's suggestion for a body to run the region's stadium, saying the ARC would happily hand over the 25,000-seat Mt Smart Stadium, which last year got a $23 million new stand.

"It's overdue and I'm sure there could be significant benefits by sharing management and sharing services and managing these stadiums as an entity," he said.

But Mr Lee, who is resisting pressure from Mr Mallard and Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard for the ARC to contribute to Eden Park, was wary of using a new regional stadium body to fund the upgrade there.

"We have to start listening seriously to the ratepayers. The Rugby World Cup should not be a burden on the ratepayers," he said.

Mr Lee said the ARC wanted to discuss with the Government ways of making a regional contribution, saying the Administration should revisit the idea of bed and airport departure taxes or investigate a regional lottery.

Mr Mallard promised 17 days ago that special bed and departure taxes would help finance whatever stadium option went ahead.

But on Monday he said that was no longer an option for Eden Park because the tourism industry did not want it.

The Government also made it clear it was aware of Auckland ratepayers' sensitivities to funding a stadium through rates.

Mr Hubbard said Eden Park was typical of the age-old problem of funding regional facilities, which saw Auckland City ratepayers picking up most of the tab.

It would be nice to fund Eden Park on a voluntary basis but it made no sense while the ARC refused to put up a cent, he said.

The mayor said the region's stadiums could jointly be run by councils along the same lines as Auckland Museum and the Museum of Transport and Technology, which are funded on a pro-rata basis.

Eden Park development committee chairman Rob Fisher said a single stadium body made sense to reduce overheads, and he was comfortable about Eden Park being part of the mix.

Presumably nothing would happen before changes were made to the governance structure, he said.

The privately run Eden Park Trust Board has said that if its facility was developed for the Rugby World Cup with public money there would need to be changes to its governance structure to reflect the interests of the Government and councils.

The board has proposed six models for consideration but favoured a new trust with eight trustees, two of whom it would appoint, with the other six to be appointed by the Government.

North Shore Mayor George Wood - whose council bailed out North Harbour Stadium in August because it could not pay $30 million in loans - said it would be difficult putting the stadium in a regional body because the council owned the land and a trust owned the stadium.

Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis said there was no need for the Telstra-Clear Pacific Events Centre to go into a regional body because it had been a resounding success and turned a small profit since opening last year.

Meanwhile, resource consent hearings for the Eden Park upgrade begin tomorrow.

The $385m upgrade

What's involved

Two-bay extension to the ASB stand replacing the Panasonic stand.
New three-tier east stand replacing the eastern terraces.
New three-tier south stand replacing the south and south-west stands.
New west stand replacing the existing west stand.

Costs

ASB stand - $24m.
East stand - $54.2m.
South stand - $190.7m.
West stand - $85.4m.
External concourse, plaza and landscaping - $7.5m.
Internal concourse - $17.7m.
Property purchases - $5m.
Other costs - $500,000.