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Stadium choice is over to us
Saturday November 11, 2006

At last, something definite to chew on. The waterfront stadium proposed to Auckland by the Minister of Sport yesterday is as much as we have been given to expect but it is good to have a clear project to discuss. It is good, too, that the Government seems genuinely to want Auckland's opinion before it proceeds, and that it is still willing to finance an upgrade of Eden Park, though not to the same degree, if that is what Auckland says it would prefer.

So there it is. Trevor Mallard wants to have a clear steer from this city in a fortnight. It's a fearfully short period for any community, let alone a place as diverse and disorganised as Auckland, to reach a decision. But as Eden Park advocates keep reminding us, time is at a premium. A 60,000-seat stadium must be ready for the Rugby World Cup in just under five years. And it is helpful that the minister has put only two options on the table.

Eden Park or the waterfront: forget all others. Carlaw Park, North Harbour Stadium, Manukau mudflats and every other possibility are off the table. We need to think hard and fast, remembering all the time that the downtown waterfront is a precious commodity, not only for the city's economy but for its social focus and physical attraction. Whatever is built there will be with us for generations. It has to be right.

The Government's chosen site is behind the infamous red fence to the east of the Ferry Building. The stadium will be clearly visible from the bottom of Queen St, and will block views from low rise buildings envisaged for redevelopment around Britomart. Ideally, perhaps, the stadium would be set a little further east, on Bledisloe Wharf, but the port company is reluctant to relinquish that area.

The proposal, a stadium built over Marsden and Captain Cook wharves, envisages a new cruise ship terminal alongside it and a public concourse around the stadium. With a little more design flair than Mr Mallard seems to have found, the facility could make better use of its waterside and harbour views. Indeed, it must make full use of those features if it is to commandeer such a splendid site.

There may be no time for a wide-ranging architectural exercise, but it should be possible to improve the concept made public yesterday if a shortage of time can concentrate minds wonderfully on the design possibilities.

But we must not allow ourselves to be rushed into something that is not the best we might do with that waterfront property. A central city stadium would be a fine acquisition, but there will be other sites, beyond the timetable of the Rugby World Cup. Unless we decide we like the idea of an all-purpose stadium on the harbour for more reasons than one brief rugby tournament, we should stay with Eden Park.

Mr Mallard has made it clear that the Government's contribution to Eden Park's additions would be less than it is prepared to put into a waterfront stadium, since it believes it could present the stadium as a national project, comparable to Te Papa in the capital.

That is a considerable financial incentive to opt for the Government's preference, but again, not a conclusive reason. Auckland's local government will be given legislative power to tap extra sources of finance for its contribution to either stadium, so if Auckland prefers Eden Park, Auckland will be able to pay for its decision.

Yesterday Mr Mallard made a case that was persuasive, but not convincing. The decision to be made over the next fortnight is one that all citizens should regard as their own.