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Stadium would boost fortunes of business district
Greg McKeown
Monday October 16, 2006

New Zealand will host a great Rugby World Cup in 2011. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy saw magnificent temporary sets created all over the country and showcased New Zealand scenery worldwide.

The events in 2011 offer an opportunity to do something similar, but the focus will also be on our cities. Sets should be permanent, and should leave infrastructure that helps to shape our cities and will be used for generations to come.

The "$320 million-plus legacy option" at Eden Park is a compromised solution for Auckland and the country. Its location is primarily residential - the area has been previously designated an "area of stability" by Auckland City, not growth.

The economic returns on the park are sub-optimal and it is also a lot to pay for an additional 12,500 seats.

The design leaves a significant number of seats uncovered and no retractable roof is incorporated.

Serious issues are arising regarding consentability. Because of the presence of cricket, even the design for rugby is compromised, and the park is not as multifunctional as other international stadiums.

While we concur with some of the comments made by Barry Rae on this page we disagree with his conclusions. Building a stadium in Auckland's Central Business District need not compromise waterfront and urban design principles.

In fact, in Auckland's case, the Rugby World Cup might just be the fillip for growing the CBD economy, establishing new city infrastructure and services, and reshaping a better waterfront.

Auckland competes for New Zealand against other international cities. Capitalising on the natural and man-made assets of the CBD is a crucial part of growing Auckland's economy.

What is core to building a strong and vibrant CBD economy is having a high population of CBD residents, workers and visitors.

International and domestic visitors, are a catalyst for vibrancy, and will only come if the CBD is easily accessible, has great retail, entertainment and tourism infrastructure, and hosts great events.

Successful urban waterfront development will require managing growing competition between trade and tourism, while at the same time building good links between the urban fabric of downtown Auckland and the water.

Protecting and selectively growing our traditional seaport economy, including cruise and ferry operations, seafood harvesting and processing, the marine services industry and cargo logistics makes economic sense and contributes to the vitality of the waterfront.

Heart of the City has supported plans to foster a fishing village theme, develop a marine events centre, and retain the marine industry at the western end of the CBD.

But we have strongly opposed Ports of Auckland and Auckland City plans for the development of apartments, shops and offices on the Wynyard Point headland, where it makes much better sense to establish a landmark urban park.

A great example of this concept is Chicago's Millennium Park, which is part park, part outdoor art museum, part cultural centre, and part performance space.

If we can develop these plans without further compromise, the western end of the CBD waterfront will be a success. No need for a stadium there.

The battle we have had with the Ports of Auckland, Auckland City and the ARC has been to get some traction on the centre of the CBD waterfront - Queen's, Captain Cook and Marsden wharves. These wharves are wasted and could be better used for expanded ferry facilities, a stunningly designed public building, cruise ship berths and new public open spaces.

A positive aspect of the Government's involvement in planning for 2011 is that the port's use of this land is coming under scrutiny.

The prospect of the Tauranga and Auckland ports collaborating rather than competing adds to the good news and improves the prospects of these finger wharves being used for something brighter than importing bananas and cars.

It is easy to agree with Barry Rae's comments that these wharves should not be used for a stadium. A stadium in the centre of the CBD waterfront destroys the relationship this area should enjoy with the Queen St valley and, in particular, the new above-ground Britomart developments.

To try to lessen objections, some commentators have pointed to the open-air design of San Francisco's baseball park, where spectators can enjoy views of the city around them.

But in simple terms that is "the wrong peg in wrong hole". We need a covered stadium capable of being used in all weather for rugby, league, soccer, concerts, exhibitions and more.

The stadium would be better located on the reclaimed land just east of these finger wharves. Several possible sites are contained within this area, which includes the southern end of the Bledisloe container terminal and the Fonterra facilities.

The principal operating area of the Bledisloe port would be retained, and Fonterra's needs would continue to be met by either Auckland or Tauranga.

Here is a rationale for this CBD stadium location:

It is an industrial port area. Located here, the stadium provides an eastern bookend for the people's CBD waterfront, and a fillip for the future redevelopment of the CBD waterfront to the west of it. The western bookend will be that great urban park on Wynyard Point.

The finger wharves are preserved for future developments which help to grow the economy and the community of the Auckland CBD.

It is important that this area is retained for people-oriented activities that have a strong relationship with the CBD core and the water, and that the buildings there are smaller than a covered stadium, as well as in harmony with the above-ground Britomart developments. Important too to make the most of its northerly aspect

The finger wharves could be used temporarily during the World Cup to host special public events and entertainment for New Zealanders and thousands of international visitors - what a fantastic spot right on our sparkling waterfront to do that.

Later new public buildings could be located as a neighbour to the stadium, either to the west on the finger wharves or to the east on port land. The finger wharves would demand the great architecture Aucklanders have been crying out for.

The site is adjacent to the arena and close to the Britomart transport centre, and within walking distance of CBD carparks, entertainment areas and many hotels.

Quay St footpaths have been widened - more could be done there on the land available - and there is still a four-lane carriageway, offering the opportunity to establish dedicated public transport infrastructure.

The external edge of the stadium could be developed for commercial tenants - it need not be a blank wall.

We see benefits for the city in the long term if port traffic from the motorway is restricted to the Strand and the current Ferguson terminal entrance, rather than using Beach Rd. This will provide the opportunity for amenity improvements in the central area of the CBD.

To help the port company, we believe Aucklanders would support more reclamation within the current envelope of the Bledisloe and Ferguson terminals if absolutely required.

Regular games at Eden Park do not always have good attendances.

If the stadium was in the CBD, the 70,000 workers and 50,000 students who are already there would be more likely to stay on for evening games - a huge on-going benefit to rugby and other sports codes.

If in the long term the ports stay in Auckland and retain the remainder of their terminal facilities, well and good, the stadium "bookend" has done its job. Alternatively, if port activities recede, new developments will have the best waterside locations, not the stadium, which would also be a good result for Auckland.

Regardless of how the port's land is developed in the future, this is a good stadium location. Building a national stadium in the CBD, used for more types of events, for more people, for more days of the year, is the way to go.

* Greg McKeown is a former Auckland City councillor and works for Heart of Auckland City, an advocacy and promotion organisation representing the Central Business District community.