|$200m cash injection for Carlaw Park as World Cup host
|Sunday February 04, 2007
By Gregor Paul
The consortium trying to build a national stadium at Carlaw Park has secured more than $200m from a major international backer.
The cash, understood to be from Australian giant Macquarie Bank, is about half the estimated cost of revamping the former rugby league ground into a world-class facility capable of hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup final.
Broker Lloyd Parrant, of Multinational Property Investors, says Ministry of Economic Development officials are warming to the idea of a 60,000-seat venue on Auckland's domain.
Carlaw Park was dismissed when the Government was pursuing a choice between Eden Park and a waterfront stadium. However, financing the project so there is less immediate demand on the public purse makes the Carlaw Park option much more attractive.
The Government named Eden Park as its preferred site for the final and North Harbour Stadium the back-up, but only after failing to gain enough support for a waterfront stadium.
Sports Minister Trevor Mallard branded Eden Park a "poor second option" and has given strong signals the Government is reluctant to help fund a $320m redevelopment of the stadium.
The Carlaw Park proposal has more than $200m secured from private enterprise and strong support within the Auckland City Council who will almost certainly commit at least $50m.
Willis Bond owns the development rights to the land, having bought them from Auckland Rugby League.
Development has focused on a rest home - a joint venture of the ARL and Willis Bond. However, Cameron McGregor, ARL chairman, said the original plan was to develop a $100m, 25,000 seat stadium.
That was shelved when the Warriors signed a long-term lease at Mt Smart Stadium and the ARL struggled to get the political and funding support.
The rest home was 'Plan B', said McGregor but added: "Willis Bond know where our heart is. They know that we always wanted a national stadium at Carlaw Park and, if we could get some money out of it, that would be the ideal scenario."
Estimates of a successful rest home development suggested the ARL would realise something like $50m.
The key to the future is Government support and funding. Parrant hopes MED officials recommend the Government analyse the proposal now that watertight contracts have been struck.
"We are signing off on confidentially agreements and we are hoping that we are going to get the MED to buy in," said Parrant. "The financier we are dealing with has a balance sheet that is bigger than the New Zealand Government's."
Most estimates say work would need to begin by June this year to be ready for 2011 World Cup matches.
While the consortium would like a completed stadium within that time Parrant says the project can still go ahead even if it is not finished by 2011.
"We haven't really focused on what is happening at Eden Park. I believe we can get Carlaw Park ready for the World Cup but we are proposing a national stadium that will extend beyond rugby and the World Cup."
The plan is to run Carlaw Park as a 'BOOT' scheme (Build, Own, Operate,Transfer) where the development is funded by private and public money, run by the public sector. The major international investor is then bought out, probably over 20-30 years.
At Eden Park, the Eden Park Trust has committed $60m to the rebuild and is hoping to raise $175m from Government and "related sources," with $50m from Auckland City Council and the rest from grants and the Lotteries Commission.
As reliance on the public purse continues to generate opponents, the Government remains open to evaluating alternative sites.
As a further sign of the Government's uncertainty about Eden Park, experts have been flown in from Switzerland and London to determine whether the cheaper option of using temporary seats is feasible.
The Carlaw Park story so far
* Auckland Rugby League sell ground to property firm Willis Bond, which plans a retirement village after little interest is shown in redeveloping the stadium.
* MPI use architectural firm Opus International to draw up plans to build a national stadium on site.
* Some Auckland City councillors support the proposal and petition the Government to consider it.
* Government says it will consider only a waterfront stadium or Eden Park for 2011 World Cup.
* Eden Park is reluctantly backed by Government.
* MPI continues to broker a deal on Carlaw Park and secures in excess of $200m from major international finance house.