13 Aug 2021

Christchurch mayor nervous about how to pay for bigger stadium

6:58 pm on 13 August 2021

The Christchurch mayor is nervous about how the city will pay for an upsized multi-use arena, but believes it is what residents want.

Planned Christchurch Stadium

Photo: Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City council yesterday backtracked on a decision to downsize the soon to be constructed arena to 25,000 seats, and thereby stick within budget.

The council said it will add the $50 million to the budget - bringing it to $523m.

Over the past month pressure has grown on city councillors to rethink the plan to cut the seat capacity at the new stadium, including from a 24,000 signature petition.

Christchurch Central City Business Association chair Annabel Turley said their members are thrilled with the backtrack by the council.

She said many inner city business have invested in anticipation of the flow on from the Multi-use arena, which was initially going to seat 35 000 people, and be built in by 2017.

Turley said when Dunedin's Forsyth Barr stadium has a concert it attracted huge numbers of people into the town.

"It's massive. These weekends that they have at for example down at Forsyth Barr, when they have a concert that's like Boxing Day sale on steroids. So it is actually really significant to have some bumper weekends to hold you over times like now, when its a bit cold and people don't like going outside. So it is so, so important."

In July council staff warned that if the Council kept the 30,000 seat plan the cost would go $88.8m over budget, and at that stage the Council voted in favour of cutting the seats by 5000 and sticking to the $473m budget.

Five councillors voted against the proposal at that stage, including councillor Sam McDonald who publicly questioned the sums.

McDonald was proved to be correct with the staff later revising the extra cost of the 5000 seats down to $50 million.

McDonald said he did not want to dwell on the changing price tag, and was just glad they had got a good outcome.

"Let's be very, very clear, we're not increasing the size of anything," said Mr McDonald. "We're decreasing it from what the blueprint had promised after the earthquake, so originally it was 35,000. We've come back to 30,000. And there was a staff recommendation a couple of weeks ago to reduce it even further. So we're literally delivering what we promised the people of Christchurch at 30,000."

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the initial advice was put together quickly when staff were advised to come up with a proposal within budget - but on the second vote they were able to get more information.

She said it became clear the public didn't want a reduction in seats.

Dalziel said the issue now will be how to raise the extra funds needed.

"I feel a bit nervous about going into the future without knowing exactly where the money is coming from. But I heard a really strong and powerful commitment from our city to make that contribution available and whether that's an element on rates, whether that's an element on other other models of funding.

"You know, I just think that the door is now open to us. We got a very clear message from our community that they're willing to contribute to make this work."

Dalziel said she can reassure people the decision is final, and there will be no more votes on seats.

Chris Chen, a senior lecturer in Marketing at the University of Canterbury said there is the potential for risk and opportunity with the larger size stadium.

He said without a world class arena Christchurch was at a disadvantage when bidding for the big events.

"After the earthquakes, the mosque shooting, Covid we do need something to show the world and us what a strong community we are. And if strategically planned well the arena, as well as other amenities in the city, would attract the local community to gather in the city as well, and get them to feel attached to the city and revitalise the city."

He said the new arena could be positive for Christchurch's image.

"Christchurch was perceived as really old fashioned, with a dull and the negative image. And having a world class stadium and arena established would definitely attract a lot of young people and change this kind of perception. So this arena along with Te Pae (Convention centre) and other assets would have the potential to help build the strong sense of the place, and sense of community as well."

However Mr Chen said research he has done on stadiums in China shows even there large cities struggle to fill stadiums to capacity, and people should see the stadium as more about legacy and community building then focus on counting the empty seats.

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