23 Jul 2021

Christchurch stadium downsize shortsighted, councillor says

11:08 am on 23 July 2021

Christchurch's decision to cut the capacity of its new stadium is being labelled by a councillor as one the city will come to regret.

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Concept drawing of new Christchurch multi-use stadium. Photo: Christchurch City Council

After a four-hour meeting, Christchurch City Council voted on Thursday to reduce the number of seats in the arena from 30,000 to 25,000 in an attempt to stem an $88 million budget blowout.

It was meant to be Christchurch's last big post-earthquake project - a $473 million indoor stadium ideal to bring top tier All Black test matches back to the country's second largest city.

But the consortium behind the it broke the news earlier this week that the original design would cost a lot more than the budgeted amount.

Among the reasons for ballooning costs is the rising price of steel and shipping since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Deputy mayor Andrew Turner said city could not afford the extra money.

Councillor James Gough, who wanted to keep 30,000 seats, is angry at the decision.

"I just think it really shows you how ignorant they are where they don't understand the difference between spending money and investing money," he said.

"At the end of the day, a stadium or multi-use arena isn't just because we want to blow hundreds of millions of dollars to watch people kick balls around, it's because of the catalyst effect that has on a local economy."

Gough said the decision was shortsighted, and one the city would come to regret.

He said there were ways the council could have sourced the money needed for the 5000 seats.

"I don't mean to sound flippant, but in the grand scheme of things, particularly for a hundred-year asset, I actually don't think that it's a deal-breaking sum," Gough said.

The last building left on the site, the NG building

The Christchurch stadium site. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"And where does it come from? Well even if you put to one side getting funding from other regional partners or the Crown, look at the cycleways programme, that's $180 million budgeted right there. You could take half of that, deferring half of the cycleways and you've covered it right then and there.

"They also managed to find $40 million pretty easily for the Town Hall blowout."

Christchurch Deputy Mayor Andrew Turner said 25,000 seats would be enough for most events and big All Blacks tests could still be attracted with the right incentives.

"Whilst there may well be some events, that would be better or a small number of events that would be better with 30,000 seats, I believe that the city will be much better off without that $88 million to pay back along with the interest over a 30 year period.

"So, a big part of this is a financial decision."

Turner said the Town Hall budget blowout was different because work was already underway on its restoration when the council had to find the extra funds.

Councillor Sam MacDonald, who is in favour of keeping the original capacity, said there were ways to plug the funding gap, such as asking the government to add another $20m to its $220m contribution to account for inflation since 2017.

"We then should have worked with our neighbouring councils to get them to effectively stump up some kind of contribution."

He said the decision by the council was "incredibly disappointing".

"I think we should have been more bold."

MacDonald disagreed with the $88 million dollar blowout figure being discussed by officials and believed that in reality it would be "a lot less".

He said he could not go into detail because the costs were discussed at confidential council meetings.

One regular user of the new arena will be Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders, which says the new seating capacity will be enough for most of its games.

Chief executive Colin Mansbridge hinted at some disappointment, noting how much Canterbury contributed to the All Blacks.

"Given the number of All Blacks that have contributed from this region, I think it is a bit of a pity that they don't get to play at home, so to speak, a bit more often.

"So yeah, I think anything that takes away from that is a slight disappointment, but then again, when you're sitting there as a councillor and you've got conflicting priorities about how to spend money, I have some sympathy for their position."

Mansbridge said he's happy the stadium build hasn't been delayed any further.

Construction is due to begin next year, with the arena set to open by the end of 2024.

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