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Some councils help fund stadium projects - some don't
Thursday November 30, 2006
By Simon O'Rourke

Prime movers behind Wellington's WestpacTrust Stadium - the Cake Tin - and Taranaki's bread basket, Yarrow Stadium, got significant regional financial input to fund their revamped rugby venues.

And, in Northland, it appears a big loan will be made to fund a proposed $39 million events complex at Okara Park.

But that is where the precedent stops, as calls go out for the Auckland Regional Council to follow suit and stump up some cash to help fund Eden Park's $225 million development shortfall.

There is an inconsistent track record of regional council involvement in recent stadium projects throughout the country.

Touted as a premium venue, Hamilton's Waikato Stadium was built amid a backdrop of immense pressure on its regional council, Environment Waikato (EW).

The regional council never relented in those seven years, consistently refusing to pour ratepayers' money into the project.

From the moment designs emerged in 1997 to the stadium's opening in 2002, EW maintained financial involvement was outside its "core" function.

It also said a change of legislation was required before it could commit to funding.

EW's hardline stance came despite major budget blow-outs during the stadium's construction, as lobbying among its 14 councillors intensified.

The closest it came was when a councillor suggested a loan could be made, but that never eventuated.

When costs ballooned from $25 million to $39 million, private deals were done between businesses, the city council and leading Hamilton businessmen.

However, two other stadium projects have had more success in finding spare cash in regional council coffers.

In 1998, Wellington Regional Council decided to get financially involved in the Cake Tin after consulting with its ratepayers, who favoured the development. Council found its way around legislation by taking out a $25 million loan to get construction started.

The money came in the form of an interest-free loan over a 20-year period, after city ratepayers had already stumped up $15 million.

The $25 million WRC loan was critical to the stadium's $121 million construction cost.

In 2001, the Taranaki Regional Council decided it would fund New Plymouth's upgrade of Yarrow Stadium to the tune of $9.6 million, a significant slice of the $16.5 million total.

But before the funds could be legally handed over to the stadium trust, Taranaki MPs, local-body politicians and lawyers had to go to Parliament to force a law change.

The law allowed funds from the sale of regional council assets (such as port infrastructure) to be used for purposes other than those they were originally used for (harbour dredging).

The Taranaki Regional Council Empowering Act was passed in late 200 and money was handed over almost immediately so that work could begin.

Mount Maunganui's major stadium, Blue Chip, is privately owned by Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson.

Recently Tauranga City Council became financially involved in supporting the venue, promising to inject $25 million into a sport and exhibition centre behind the rugby and speedway arena.

The overall cost of that development is expected to be up to $35 million, with council leaving the difference up to "external" sources. Environment Bay of Plenty is yet to make any commitment.

Southland Regional Council has echoed EW's stance that it prefers to stick to its core business of managing regional resources, rather than funding event complexes.

Jade Stadium's $44 million upgrade of its west and south stands, completed in 2002, was bankrolled by a $40 million unsecured loan from the city council, along with a $4 million ratepayer-funded cheque. No financial input has ever been made by Environment Canterbury.