21 Jan 2019

Eden Park offered sweetener by downtown stadium group

3:11 pm on 21 January 2019

Developers of a proposed $1.7 billion waterfront stadium may have the answer to the sticky wicket facing Auckland ratepayers.

Eden Park

Eden Park is cash-strapped with losses expected to top $80 million within a decade. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Indian national team are the superstars of the cricketing world, but none of their five one-day internationals will be played in New Zealand's biggest city.

The likes of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni will play just one paltry T20 at Eden Park, while Bangladesh bypasses Auckland altogether in its three ODIs and three tests.

The All Blacks, too, will play one fewer test than usual at the venue this year due to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

On top of this, the stadium's got failing floodlights, ageing turf, a poorly performing Blues franchise, and a very organised residents' association opposing any additional night-time events.

So the carrot being dangled by the Auckland Waterfront Consortium may be looking rather tempting round about now.

It's offering to bail the troubled and cash-strapped Eden Park - if it is allowed to go ahead and build a new national stadium on the waterfront.

"We think there might be an ability for us to help fund the funding gap that Eden Park currently is exposed to over the next five to 10 years while we get a new stadium built," said chairperson Dave Wigmore.

"That's something we've presented to them as a possible option."

The Eden Park Trust has been under a cloud since an independent report laid bare its woeful financial situation, with losses expected to top $80 million within a decade.

While Mr Wigmore was more than happy to have a 19-minute chat to RNZ, the Eden Park Trust and its chairman Doug McKay seem to have a strict "no comment" policy these days.

As well as offering to pay off Eden Park's mounting debts, Mr Wigmore said if the consortium gets the go-ahead, the trust can have the keys to the new stadium and be in charge of looking after it once it is built.

"The inability to hold the number of events that they need to make it operationally viable is a big part of the problem. And the only solution to that if they were to remain in Mt Eden would be to fully enclose the existing facility, which is a hugely expensive exercise.

"Our waterfront proposal gets you there without any ratepayer investment whereas the other options are likely to involve significant capital from the ratepayer."

Artist's impression of a new Auckland stadium.

The proposed waterfront stadium. Photo: RNZ / Supplied

While he wouldn't be drawn on a deadline when the consortium will take its offer off the table, Mr Wigmore indicated time was of the essence.

"The longer we go on without any commitment from council the harder it is for us to be able to support Eden Park.

"Also, there's the risk that ratepayer money will be spent on other things like carpark buildings on Ports of Auckland land and other infrastructure work that might be wasted money if we go ahead with this stadium development."

The proposal is currently before Auckland Council's planning committee, which Mr Wigmore said had now been thoroughly briefed on what the consortium was proposing.

Chris Darby at a Council meeting about the Unitary Plan. 10 August 2016.

Councillor Chris Darby says a better idea of Eden Park's financial position is needed. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

But planning committee chairperson Chris Darby isn't keen to make any rushed decisions.

"The council position at this time is that we want to better understand the business of Eden Park and its financial position. There are some concerns expressed around that and the mayor and councillors will be meeting on February 13 to discuss that."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the financial position of Eden Park was serious, with its deficit expected to get worse this year.

"These are problems in the first instance for the trust to tackle. We have invited Eden Park Trust board to make a submission to councillors early this year to see what, if anything, council can do.

"Eden Park is an important sporting venue in Auckland, but I don't think ratepayers will want council to hand over millions and millions of ratepayer dollars to Eden Park without resolving the underlying issues."

The proposed $1.7 billion covered 50,000-seat stadium on Bledisloe Wharf would be paid for entirely by the developer that wins the tender.

In return, the developer would get the right to build thousands of houses on land at the wharf and on the site of Eden Park, which would be demolished.

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