The proposed new Christchurch sports stadium is another rebuild top-down decision foisted on the good people of Christchurch who will not only be paying, whether they like it or not, for much of the building costs but they will also have to pay for the running costs of the sports stadium as well. The Christchurch Stadium Trust has already warned that the income generated from a new stadium will not cover debt repayments. Two of the business interests that stand to gain the most from the new stadium are the Canterbury Rugby Union and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. Despite having a turnover of over a quarter of a  billion dollars in 2017 the NZRFU doesn't think it should have to help pay for the stadium.

Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods (centre).
THE LEAD UP TO TODAY'S announcement on the proposed new Christchurch sports stadium could almost have been scripted.

Over the weekend Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said he was sick of his team playing at the AMI stadium - after he had to watch his team play in the rain and hail during the Crusaders win over the Sunwolves. Demanding that a decision be made about a new sports venue, Robertson referred to Dunedin's Forsyth Barr stadium:

"It has got to be someone that shows true leadership, like they did in Dunedin. A lot of people said, 'potentially do we need it?' They needed it, and we need it."

On Monday Mayor Lianne Dalziel stepped up to the plate to declare that a new stadium was now ''a priority" for Christchurch. Now into her second term as mayor, Dalziel has suddenly decided that Christchurch can no longer continue without a new sports stadium.

Four days later the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods has announced that a fast tracked business case for the stadium would determine its size and style but she foresaw " a roofed stadium large enough to allow the city to host major test matches as well as entertainment events".

If it was a stage(d) show, it was a stage show designed for an audience with mixed feelings about the proposed stadium. If comments in the social media are any indication many people think there is better ways to spend over half a billion dollars - like fixing still-damaged areas of Christchurch such as the neglected suburb of New Brighton, or repairing the many quake-damaged roads that remain and fixing a creaking infrastructure.

Nor  is there a great deal of enthusiasm for seeing the rates being increased again to help fund the stadium. Christchurch is a poor city and many people are struggling. Not many of us are on the kind of salaries that Canterbury rugby coaches and Christchurch mayors and councillors command.

Certainly, we haven't seen any big demonstrations with people waving placards demanding that they should be allowed to fork out more money that they don't have so that the Crusaders coach doesn't have to sit in the rain when his team are playing at the AMI stadium.

The stadium conversation has occurred - as it has with most of the rebuild - within the rarified confines of government (both national and local) and local vested interests.

One of the central advocates for the new stadium has been the Multi-Purpose Arena Trust (MPA). It's headed by New Zealand Olympic Committee member Barry Maister with a board whose members are all drawn from the local corporate environment. There hasn't exactly been a lot of community input here, even though the group claims to be speak for the local community.

Last week Maister told Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch:

'We believe that a regenerated city needs to have a facility that is genuinely multi-purpose. We could rebuild a rugby stadium that has a limited use, or we can take this opportunity to look a genuine multi-purpose arena, such as Dunedin has and is obviously benefiting from. There's a recognition that in the climate that we have, that having a roof, having a genuine spectator experience, and providing the possibility for a range of possibilities to exist is a logical upgrade on Lancaster Park."

Maister didn't receive any argument from Chris Lynch. The talkback host, who is opposed to the Christchurch City Council helping to fund the rebuild of the Christchurch Cathedral, has had a far more generous view of the sports stadium and has used his morning show to promote it.

In 2017 a feasibility study from the Christchurch Stadium Trust found that the initial 2012 option to have a 35,000-seat covered arena with a retractable roof was too expensive for the city. Its pick was a $496 million stadium, which would have 25,000 permanent seats, a solid roof and retractable pitch.

This is likely close to what the Government will decide on.

The Christchurch City Council has earmarked $253 million for such a stadium and, shortly before the election the National government announced an additional $120 million funding. Even if all these figures remain true this still leaves a significant shortfall of some $123 million. And given the propensity of projects like these never to remain within budget, that shortfall could even be greater.

While neither the Canterbury Rugby Football Union and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) think they should have to contribute to the building costs of a new stadium, they have been among its most loudest proponents. Last year the NZRFU had a turnover of over one quarter of a billion dollars and it posted a record $33 million profit.

Scott Robertson doesn't want his team playing in the rain.
In 2016 the Canterbury Rugby Union commissioned a survey of just 770 people that said that 82 percent of respondents thought that the stadium should be "funded through a cost sharing arrangement between the Government and Council" and that "88% accepted that it will mean an increase in rates to some degree (32% thought a substantial increase and 56% though a slight increase)."

That survey also said that 83 percent of respondents thought having a "modern outdoor events facility' would be 'good for the economy". But, significantly, the report from the Christchurch Stadium Trust states that the income generated from a new stadium will not cover debt repayments. So while Christchurch business interests like the Canterbury Rugby Union, the NZFRU and various hotel and bar owners might reap the financial rewards from the stadium, it is likely to be an anchor project that will weigh heavily on the good people of Christchurch for many years to come.

And while the advocates of a new stadium cast envious eyes south to Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium and claim it is stealing all the Ed Sheeran concerts, they rarely, if at all, mention the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. But as Sam Richardson, a senior lecturer with the Massey Business School, has observed:

"Consider the case of the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Considered a commercially successful facility that has covered its operating costs for many years, it is yet to repay any of its principal loans by the public sector – after almost 18 years of operation. Westpac Stadium enjoyed a successful honeymoon period – which international research has shown lasts for up to the first 10 years of a facility's existence – but there is no evidence that it has increased the city or region's key economic indicators of employment or GDP.

After the first ten years, crowds declined and are now similar to the attendances at Athletic Park before the Westpac Stadium was built. Christchurch can expect much the same. People will attend a new facility because it is new and shiny, but eventually the lustre wears off."

While the supporters of the stadium will undoubtedly claim it will be stadium that 'Christchurch can be proud of' the reality is likely to be something else entirely. The stadium will be a symbol of corporate welfare and which the good people of Christchurch will be forced to fund for many years to come. 

This will be another corporate project which will see the costs socialised and the profits privatised.


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